One for my psychiatrist….
Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 13, 2013
If I ever decide to get therapy, this story, published seven or eight years ago, will probably be the one that makes my therapist go “hmmm” and nod her head in understanding….
Recently, I came across some pictures of my brother and my parents in Pennsylvania at what I believe was called The Fairy Tale Village. I can’t find any evidence on the Internet that such a place ever existed, but as far as I can tell, it consisted of some large painted plywood cut-outs of nursery tale characters. As theme parks go, it was pretty basic.
Those photos always fascinated me when I was a child because they were taken on the one family vacation that I wasn’t part of.
One summer — I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 — my parents were planning a trip to Pennsylvania Dutch country. As family lore has it, I declared that I didn’t want to go.
I do have a vague recollection of balking at the idea of such a trip. It wasn’t that I had anything against the Pennsylvania Dutch. How could I, since I had no clue what that even meant?
I was rebelling at the thought of riding in the car across the mountain. Even at that tender age, Iwas already horribly nearsighted, and I associated going over the mountains with the excruciating boredom I felt looking out of a car window and seeing nothing but a big moving blur. I thought this is what everyone saw.
My parents were not aware that I needed glasses, although I think they might have figured it out sooner had they not been so quick to assume that I was a little “slow.” My mother tells me now that whenever I was asked to fetch something — like my shoes, for example — I’d return to her and announce that I couldn’t find them.
Of course they didn’t know that I was living in a pointillist world of soft, mushy, myopic images. In the evenings, they probably discussed how they would deal with having one extremely bright child (my brother) and one who was somewhat dim (me).
At any rate, I simply told them I didn’t want to go. OK, so you won’t go, my mother responded.
When I look back on this incident as an adult, it astounds me. Do most children get a say in matters involving family vacations? Is a pre-school child normally allowed to opt out of a major family trip?
In the photos from the trip, my mother’s face does not betray a single hint of worry for her missing youngest child. My brother sports a big missing-tooth grin in most of the photos, posed in front of Humpty Dumpty and Mother Goose. He looks pretty darned happy to be an only child.
You are wondering where I am while these pictures were taken. Home alone, running around in a filthy T-shirt and eating uncooked pasta out of a box to survive?
Actually, I am staying up the road with our neighbors, the Hogsheads (I am not making the name up.) If you are imagining that the Hogsheads were a family similar to my own, with a TV set and indoor plumbing, you would be mistaken.
The Hogsheads were what my parents called “salt of the earth.” They used an outhouse, they had no electricity, and they cooked and heated their home with wood stoves. Mrs. Hogshead was a sweet and kind woman, and Mr. Hogshead was a gentle and hardworking farmer. They were excellent neighbors and more than happy to keep me, my mom says.
I don’t have a lot of detailed memories from the time that I spent there, just some snapshot kinds of images, but I do remember watching as they made soap in a big black kettle in the yard using lye and the fat of a hog they had butchered. More significant to me was catching my first fish with Mr. Hogshead in the little creek that ran behind their house.
Mom swears that I had a ball that week, and I’m pretty sure I did. But an unpleasant thought would occasionally nag at me. Had I missed magical moments at the Fairy Tale Village? Had irreplaceable family bonding occurred on this vacation?
I’ll never know.
I ended up crossing mountains many times with my parents. As a child with corrected vision, I even grew to look forward to these trips because they featured the Runaway Truck Ramp, one of those imposing slashes of sand running precipitously up the mountain. I’d imagine the driver of an 18-wheeler, screaming in terror as his rig hurtled brakeless down the mountain, his only hope for survival a strip of sand.
Now that’s a scenario even a child who can’t find her shoes can appreciate.