[Because I’ve been quite blocked lately, I’ve been doing Writing Prompts. Here’s one… What is your earliest memory?]
Looking back, I’m surprised I wasn’t killed.
We moved out of the house on Russell Drive a few days after my third birthday, so consequently I have very few memories of my time there. All my recollections of what it looked like –white with reddish-brown trim and shutters –come from driving by on visits back to the Milwaukee area in subsequent years.
My only memory of the interior is looking up at my mother while she stood in front of the kitchen window while yellow lightning bolts hung in the sky behind her. And that’s not really a memory of the interior when you come to think about it. I have never seen lightning that exact color and duration again. One’s first memory of a thing always comes with a quality that makes it seem not real. You can spend your whole life chasing that first memory.
I have more memories of Russell Drive itself, a perfectly pleasant street in the “R” section of Greendale. People were mostly nice. To one side of us lived the Maxims. I remember having a –I wouldn’t call it a crush –proto-fondness for the daughter Michelle even though I don’t remember what she looked like or her age. All I know is she was kind. On our other side lived Mr. Lidke. He was old, like a grandpa. Mr. Lidke liked having me around, especially on days he mowed his lawn. I remember following him around, “helping,” but mostly being amazed at how the grass became all orderly and stuff. This helped me learned cause and effect and is why I still get a little rush out of mowing the lawn. Not too much of a rush, however. It’s still lawn mowing.
Perhaps my fondest memory of Russell Drive was the fact that it had sidewalks. Once we moved from there, I would never live anywhere with them until college. Granted, the golf-course community that we lived in while I was in high school had “bike paths” running behind and between the houses, but those were designed to hide the pedestrian; you never saw anyone just strolling down the street because apparently nothing brings down resale value like visible pedestrians.
But for the toddler on the go, the sidewalks of Russell Drive were indispensable. They were not quite yard with its uneven surfaces made to trip one up. And they were not quite street. The street is where you went if you wanted your mom to yell at you. And the last thing I needed was my mom yelling at me; I was a busy man.
Most of my solo travels on the sidewalk took me from halfway in front of the Maxims to halfway in front of the Lidkes –basically as far as I could go until someone yelled. Then I would take a few more steps just to show them I wasn’t anybody’s lackey and turn back.
But one time, one fine spring day [Like I knew what spring was; it was warm and flowery. Let’s just go with that.], I went for a constitutional towards the Maxims. I paused halfway past the Maxims, waiting for the yell. It never came. So I continued. I paused a little ways past the Maxims. Still no yell. I was free. I picked up speed. I had never felt so sure-footed. I went past another house. Then another and another until the houses became a blur. I was too young to know anything about the Doppler Effect then, but I’m sure I was going fast enough to bend space/time. If my mom yelled for me, would the sound even travel far enough to reach me? Did moms even exist this far from home, or was I just free-floating consciousness?
Then after six houses or so, the sidewalk ended. Ended! Here be monsters.
I was face to face with the largest road I had ever seen close up, the two moderately-traveled lanes of South 51st Street. Across 51st Street was an untamed wilderness. I wanted to get to that and continue my explorations. I took a few tentative steps off the end of the sidewalk and immediately fell. Due to the topography, my small size, and the fact I was on my ass, the cars the went by on 51st looked like they could devour me. I had never seen cars move so fast. On Russell Drive, cars stopped for kids. These cars gave the impression that they feasted on toddlers, no matter how busy or on the go they may be.
I looked around, panicked because I couldn’t immediately find the sidewalk. Was I doomed to wander aimlessly in this liminal space, forever searching for home and dodging metal beasts. I started to cry, but, if I couldn’t hear my mom’s yells…
Finally, I found concrete and directed my feet towards home. That was my last exploration on Russell Drive. A little bit after that we moved to a subdivision on Long Island with no sidewalks, just a street people used as a short cut to get to the Expressway. All exploring was relegated to the backyards; the front yards were for plants.