Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Big Wheel of Time (part 1)

Memories are curious things - they take all sorts of shapes and forms, some are easily accessible, others I wish I could get rid of, and some actually disappear when they're most required only to turn up after an exhaustive search and the need has passed. Kind of like keys. In fact, I'm sure I have plenty of memories that are essentially keys to who I am and they reside in a subconscious servant's quarters of my brain and only make themselves known when certain external stimuli act as a mental bellpull. These memories tend to be very detailed with emphasis on emotional content (good and/or bad) and can often times be intense enough to recreate the accompanying smells; a sensation which can be really weird or sometimes very comforting. A quick example would be how a certain blend of colors in a summer sunset can transport me back to the age of thirteen with daylight fading and a similarly painted sky overhead as I walk across the lawn to my house surrounded by the smell of cut grass after having spent a large portion of the day working in the yard. The memory carries a certain sense of tranquility and accomplishment along with a suggestion of loss and there are times when it surfaces that I can, beyond any doubt, smell the cut grass as I'm wondering if I'll ever feel contentment to that degree again.

Another, more recent, example is what prompted me to begin this retrospective meandering in an effort to further preserve a memory and the people involved while, at the same time, enjoying the opportunity of experiencing it, once again. It was early evening, I had just gotten back from the gym and was about to go inside when I heard Mrs. Brown, my neighbor from the street beside my house say, "Hello." Mrs. Brown is our neighborhood "cat lady," but rather than being alone with a house full of cat's by choice, she's alone because what family she had and everyone who was ever close to her has already passed away. She's still extremely nice but you can tell she expects to be joining her friends and family soon and it's easy to see in her face that she's a little frightened. She gets around with the assistance of a walker with wheels and when I see her out on the sidewalk I'm always afraid one of her cats is going to run between her legs and cause her to fall, so I was surprised to hear her voice coming from behind me and several houses down from her driveway. I turned around and saw that she was coming from the park in front of my house and had stopped at the intersection of her street, which ends at the park, and my street, and was accompanied by a little boy, no older than five-years-old, on a Big Wheel. I said, "Hi," and waved as she and her companion worked their way across the street and up the sidewalk. "This is Stevie," she said, as they neared her driveway, "He's Mrs. Daniel's boy," as if I'd know who that is, "She had to go back to work and I told her I watch him until his daddy comes to get him." Mrs. Brown seemed genuinely pleased to be looking after someone, for a change, and the finality behind her eyes was almost totally obscured by the smile on her face. I continued to watch as they made their way up her driveway and into the garage and once there, after greeting a multitude of cats, they, along with the cats, disappeared inside. I was left staring at an open two-car garage with a single car parked on the right and a Big Wheel parked on the left in front of the door leading into the house. That's when I remembered.

It was my second semester at the University of South Carolina and I was living on the third floor of Bates House (building on the right), a dorm named for a South Carolina state treasurer but heard most often in association with the word "master" in a majority of conversations. My best friends lived on the sixth floor and on one particular Saturday evening the remaining weekend residents of their floor persuaded us to partake in a scavenger hunt. The idea of a prize consisting of pizza and beer was tossed around, but in reality the hunt was merely a competition to see who could return with all the items for the sake of bragging rights and because we didn't have anything better to do. There were enough people involved to make up four teams ranging from four to six members which basically meant that four groups of best friends would be competing against each other.

The list was comprised and agreed upon by three residents of the sixth floor, who would remain on the hall to act as time keepers as well as judges for the returning teams, and presented to us with a two-hour time limit. It was fortunate that at least one member of each team drove a pickup truck, no big surprise in South Carolina, really, since some of the items on the list were a little bulky and trying to quickly stash them into a Volkswagen Beetle (what I drove) with four occupants could have proven difficult.

So, with the word "go" from the judges, lists in hand, and an overwhelming desire to be cool and conspicuous as opposed to proficient and practical, our four Bates House Scavenger Hunt teams dashed from the centrally located breezeway (by the elevators) to the four opposing stairwells.


Chris said...

This is a to be continued right?

John Taylor said...

hi chris-
Yes, I promise - I'm just not quite finished with the 2nd part. I'm using all of my Jedi resources to manufacture the time required. It should be today (Sat) or tomorrow.

Carson said...

Jeeezzz -- just finish the damn story. Glad I'm not in it.

John Taylor said...

Thanks for the support - if you were in it, you'd already know what happens.

Carson said...

Excellent point.