In no particular order, here was my life in Ohio from ages 5 – 9 years old. I mostly remember life at the homestead with my family. I do not have many memories of school or friends.
I remember learning to tie my shoes in kindergarten (bunny ears!) and doing a science experiment when I was a Brownie. I was fascinated by crystals and would grow them by over-saturating solutions and watching them form. I would enter many science fairs over the years, my experiments increasing in complexity.
At a young age, I showed a real interest in science, math, and poetry. I came from a family of talented artists, writers, philosophers, and analytical minds. Even in the chaos, I know I was strongly influenced by my environment. I was a curious child with a love for nature and creativity. I excelled in school, especially math, and I apparently loved to be the center of attention. On my kindergarten school record the doctor says “Melissa has a tendency to want to be the center of attention. Sometimes she has difficulty sharing with peers.”
I do remember a girl scouts trip in 1987. I have a memory of a cabin and one of those camping cups that folds into itself. I recently found my sash as I sorted through boxes of letters and cards. I thought I had lost it and was overcome with relief. Every artifact I find validates my fuzzy memories.
I do not remember the man my father went to high school with who was missing a little bit upstairs, who would become a gym coach and at times my babysitter. I do not remember all of the women my father would befriend, date, and care for me.
I virtually have no memories of conversations, birthdays, holidays, etc even though I know they happened and must have been fun. I do have a memory of finding an Easter basket in my bed tent. It feels frustrating and damn depressing to be deprived of these simple childhood memories.
I know there was lots of love even though I cannot recall many moments of affection. I have a few adorable cards and a letter that I wrote my dad.
Here’s what I do remember:
Big bushes of green leaves with long, red wiry strings reaching for the sky. We would break the pieces off and chew until the pleasant bitterness of the plant faded in our tiny mouths and we would spit it out like professional baseball players standing cockily on the pitchers mound.
Same with the honeysuckle, we would painstakingly extract the long pistil from the flower and carefully lick the sweet nectar from the tip.
The biggest treat were the blackberries which grew in abundance around our property. We would spend hours picking, our fingers and lips stained red and deep purple. My grandmother would make pies which would fill the house with the smells that, in adulthood, bring you right back to that moment. The same is true about her apple dumplings.
Cattails grew everywhere, reminding me of corn dogs and I would resist the urge to grab one and take a bite… just in the off chance the willpower of a child could have transformed them.
We would catch tiny, grey crayfish in the creeks which ran through our property. The icy water would numb our feet and hands as we dug under rocks in search of our temporary pets.
I would collect snakes and place them in a bucket. I would kiss them and whisper little kid promises of keeping them safe and loving them.
One time I stepped on a nail attached to a piece of plywood. It was very long and my blood stained the board as I tried to get the attention of the adults.
Aside the driveway was a steep path going down a very sharp drop. We named it the “fun hill” and in the winter would spend hours defying gravity as we flew down the hill on cheap sleds, sometimes piled on top of each other. I find it amazing that nobody broke any bones.
When my great-grandmother died in our house, I ran outside to escape my father’s deep sobs and to control my own. I laid on my back on the top of that hill and stared up at the blue sky and cotton candy clouds. I felt my great-grandmother hug me on the inside, like her ghost hands were holding my heart delicately and willing it to stop furiously pounding.
We had an attic door which had a fantastic, huge skeleton key. I would turn it over in my hand and feel old, like I had lived other lives and this key belonged to me for centuries. I felt history and weight in that key. To this day, I cannot resist the compulsion to buy skeleton keys if I come across them in a second hand store.
In this attic, we would read Scary Stories and play “light as a feather, stiff as a board”. We would get measles and be confined to the attic. We would hide and play and be super creepy in that attic.
Way back in the woods we would find what looked like gravestones and a big wooden cross. In the house, almost every member of my family would see a ghost, have terrible nightmares, and feel like they were being watched.
I had several reoccurring nightmares when I was younger. They led into my adulthood for several years and some eventually stopped coming to me. I remember them with terrifying detail. It feels unfair that I have those to carry with me but sometimes I wonder what memories they might be hiding.
I had a cabbage patch doll, barbies in unopened boxes, popples, and ribbon wands. We had dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, and even a horse at one point. The first dog I ever loved was named Cleo and she would follow me everywhere… or maybe it was me following her. She went missing one day and I eventually found her lifeless body in our favorite hiding place where several bushes grew together in a circle. We would cuddle and play in the middle of this circle, our private room in the woods. I think I laid with her for awhile that day.
There was a pig roast with lots of loud, young friends of my uncles and dad. Motorcycles were everywhere and the air was thick with beer foam, roasting meat, and a tense excitement.
Motorcycles were always around. One time I was trying to be cool and I climbed atop a mountain of a bike. I wore a 2 piece bathing suit, no doubt planning on swimming in one of our many ponds. The bike was a work in progress and there was a sharp piece of metal jutting out. It sliced deep into my left hip, leaving a visible scar which has never faded.
We would swim, catch frogs and tadpoles, and boot skate in the winter. Sometimes my dad would boil the frog’s legs and add cajun spice. We would pretend we were giants eating chicken wings. I would take the skin he peeled from the frog legs and put them on my fingers and chase my sister around like I was a frog monster out to capture her.
We had these amazing fields that would fill up with wildflowers, butterflies and large bumble bees. I would sit very still amongst the flowers and wait for a bee to hover over a flower. I would gently pet it and whisper little kid secrets. Later I would find out that my name means “honey bee”.
I loved the woods and the fields. We would explore the woods in increments of time which would result in an amber alert today. We camped in the front yard, played bad mitten, and stole fresh ears of corn from the neighboring fields.
I remember our grandmother taking us grandchildren to the Holiday Inn to swim in the pool. The smell of chlorine was strong in our noses and voices echoed in excitement throughout the enclosed space. There was lots of splashing and running the back of tiny fists across the eyes.
I have a memory of being in a long hallway and reaching for a door handle that seemed far away, my fingertips barely grazing the brass. When I saw The Shining I would feel catapulted back to that moment. I was the little girl reaching for the door handle and Danny was the one who opened the door. It is a movie that scares me to this day, all twisted in with my innocent memory.
In music class, I played the xylophone as the class sang:
“It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater
(One-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater)
A one-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater
Sure looks strange to me (One eye?)”
I had this cinderella dress and wore it while catching frogs in the pond. Whoever put that on me should have known that I loved mud and reptiles more than playing princess. Yet the adults seemed surprised and upset that I had ruined the pretty dress.
I remember monkey bars, book fairs, and field day.
We would go roller skating quite a bit. I even took lessons and learned how to roller skate backwards and I was a limbo champ. We would buy huge pixie stix and get high off of the powdered candy. The sensation of the disco lights, the sugar coating my tongue, and the excitement of being with friends spins around my head in slow motion. I want to lock fingers with this memory as friends would lock fingers as they spun around and around the rink.
I did all of these things until my mother came to visit one day. She was with a man, my stepfather, and they drove up the long driveway in a red Toyota Celica. A car I would get in their divorce when I turned 17, and would total in a horrible accident a couple of years later. That moment is the first memory I have of my mother.
Here are some pictures from 4/5 years old – 9 years old: