In Most Childhood Photos, I Am Either Eating or Making a Pouty Face

In Most Childhood Photos, I Am Either Eating or Making a Pouty Face

A Story by Taylor St. Onge
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I'm trying to capture the feeling of living in my old house from birth until age five. I'm trying to capture memory and how finicky it can be at times. This something I still need to work on.

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This is an essay about the black-and-grey-checkered fabric on car seats.  This is an essay about the hum of a car’s engine.  This is an essay about a cassette player in the radio.  About Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls.  About McDonald’s cheese pizza kids’ meals.  The aqua and purple and white scribbled design on water cups.  The pull down shades that suction cup onto car windows so that children are not blinded by the sun. Clicks of seat belts into their buckles.  A sudden stop and inertia pushing the body forward. 

This is an essay about going grocery shopping with Mom.  About driving to Pick’N’Save or Target or Walgreens.  About Mom whispering that we’re going to Walmart next and shushing you when you repeat “Walmart” too loud.  Wanting to sit in the grocery cart that is shaped like a car, but Mom never letting you because they were covered in germs.

This is an essay about getting picked up and plopped into a stroller.  The one that was red and yellow and blue and had all sorts of checkered designs on it.  Had a hood to keep you in the shade, and clear vinyl “windows” so you could still see outside.  About getting wheeled around the Milwaukee County Zoo or the Wisconsin State Fair or the community Fourth of July festival. 

This essay is about eating dry Cheerios out of a Ziploc bag and playing with Play Doh on wax paper on top of the kitchen table.  All of this happens at the Old House.  Survivor was always on TV, and when it wasn’t, it’s a VHS tape of a Backstreet Boys live performance, or maybe 101 Dalmatians or The Lion King.  Corn on the cob popcorn has been popped.  Barbies were in the tub.  The white and red and purple plastic tricycle was put away in the garage after getting ridden around the cul-de-sac; its lift-up seat filled with rocks and sticks and pieces of broken plastic that were found on the concrete.

This essay is about an N*SYNC Hit Clip gotten as a gift on St. Nick’s night.  About the big, bulky, plastic dollhouse given for a fourth golden birthday.  This essay is about the Furby your sister got for her birthday and the way it would make noise whenever you walked past. 

It’s about eating sweet corn at the kitchen table for dinner after building sandcastles in the red, crab-shaped sandbox.  Running through the sprinkler in your green, shimmery bathing suit that reminded you of Ariel.  Playing in the blue, plastic pool that had a slide--you and your sister liked playing with plastic McDonald’s happy meal toys in the cool water during the summer.

This is about the blood that gushed from your mouth after it was cut open by the teeter-totter your sister was swinging on.  About accidentally hitting the next-door neighbor girl in the head with a swing, and how you never knew her name.  The blow-up pool that was filled with water and covered with ants within a few hours and you still don’t know how, or why, or if that was even real, or if it was just a dream. 

A*Teens played on a radio.  Your sister wanted to hear “Super Trouper” again, but you wanted to hear “Mamma Mia.”  Sand that ran down the cogs of the sandbox toys, making the wheels turn from the weight.  Breaking a handle on a shovel from digging down too deep into the sand too fast.

The two banister bars in the upstairs loft that you poked your head between and inevitably got stuck in.  When Mom had to pull you out, and you got yelled at.  You and your sister would jump through the banister bars that were wider apart and farther down on the staircase--you would land on the couch and it would drive your Mom crazy every time you did it, but you never got hurt.  Most days you would just dance between the wooden bars, plastic microphone in hand, singing some Disney song or another.

Exhibit A[1]:

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            This is an essay about the Tarzan and Mulan and Hercules bath towels you and your sister would get wrapped in after your bath.  This is an essay about the plastic cups from Culver’s kids’ meals that were used to rinse your hair.  This is an about the grey stool you stood on to reach the sink.  About lukewarm bathwater.  About Blue’s Clues shampoo.  The cap shaped like Blue’s head that you used to play with in the water.  This is about the yellow rubber duck that you never had.

            This is an essay about playing with your Pocahontas dolls in the living room.  About switching to Hunchback of Notre Dame and playing with the plastic carriage Esméralda lived in.  The Mulan Barbie doll and her teatime accessories. 

            This essay is about the small, child-sized white lawn chairs that were kept in the living room for you and your sister to sit in while you watched TV.  About the little cup holders that were used for sippy cups of apple juice or loose pretzels.  About the glass and wood coffee table in the middle of the living room that was oftentimes used to store your toys.  

            It’s about Mom’s upstairs bedroom.  It’s about how she had a wooden step stool for you and your sister to get into bed with her on stormy, scary nights.  About the fleece sheets she would put on the bed once winter began.  The closet that was so full of clothes and other odds and ends that you could hardly walk into it.  The en-suite bathroom and its sunlight that you would sit beneath on particularly sunny days.  How you would play with your dolls, or your blocks, or your Hot Wheels cars, or the little white dog, Kelly, beneath the gaping hole in the ceiling.  You could never figure out how there was a glass hole in the roof, or why it was sometimes open on hot, sticky summer days.

            Computer keyboards that your father would bring home from his computer technician job laid helplessly on the floor of the upstairs loft--you never knew what he did for a living, but you always pictured him in a large corporation basement, surrounded by generators and wires.  You and your sister would play with very old cell phones, old dial-turning land phones, broken mice, and your father’s big, black laptop that no longer worked, and had a small purple button in the center of the keyboard.

            This essay is about the kitchen table you ate blue colored Blues Clues Dinosaur Eggs oatmeal at while you watched Bear in the Big Blue House on the television that was pointed in your direction from the living room.  It’s about eating Chinese pan-fried noodles and how it’s some of the only Chinese food that you’ll eat today.

            Exhibit B[2]:

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This is an essay about large trash and recycling bins filled with empty Bud Light or Miller Lite beer cans.  About white cigarette filters littered across the driveway.  Cigar butts, ashes, everything--even the grass--smelled like smoke.  The large metal racks that stood tall in the garage that were filled with bubbles and chalk and plastic toy food and jump rope and kick balls that you had gotten from Culver’s after earning enough Scoopie tokens.

About your dad’s curved and ovular green van that later turned into a more rectangular gold one.  About how there was a metal-gated divider between the front seat and the backseats because of the parts he hauled around in the back for his job.  This is about when you would drive to the hardware store with Dad so he could get more parts.  “Shape of My Heart” by the Backstreet Boys playing on the radio.  Dad turning around to tell you and your sister--again--about the first time he heard the song in New York City, and how it immediately made him think of Mom.

This is about the feeling of Mom unbuckling you from your car seat and helping you out of her black Nissan Pathfinder.  This is about walking back into the house on the day that you got the cats.  Sitting in the living room with Mom and your sister and two kittens, one with black and white splotches, and the other with orange stripes.  Naming the orange one Crystal and then throwing her up into the air because you thought it was fun.  This essay is about the cats hating you and running from you whenever you walked into the room.

The couch in the living room that your grandma and grandpa would come over and read stories to you on.  The matching pink chairs that were by the window that eventually got thrown away because they were covered in cat pee.  The glass and wood end table by the window and the chairs where you would open the gift Dad got for you whenever he went out of town on business--usually a stuffed animal in a can, or a T-shirt for your sister that you would “grow into.”

This essay is about the green rocking chair that Mom rocked you in when you couldn’t sleep.  This is about climbing up the stairs to her room to wake her up in the middle of the night.  When she let you vote in the 2000 election for her and you unknowingly voted for George W. Bush.  When she asked you on a night that you couldn’t sleep why you picked him, you told her that it was because you thought his name was funny.

This is an essay about playing with your mom in the living room.  About getting a piggyback ride from her that you only can see and verify that it happened through a photo found in a large plastic tub.

Exhibit C[3]:



[1] You do not remember this photo being taken.  In fact, you do not remember this day in particular at all.  You remember the collective memory of playing with a toy microphone--the kind that made your voice echo--and twisting and turning in between the banisters.

[2] You vaguely remember eating pan-fried noodles at the kitchen table.  You remember the trips to China Inn with mom or dad and talking to Sam, the owner, who would always give you and your sister a little drink umbrella and a new roll-up calendar for whatever animal year it was after the Chinese New Year.

[3] There are very few, if any, childhood photos that you remember being taken.  You think that you remember most of growing up, but you are wrong.  There is so much that has been pushed out of your head, so much that you might have intentionally or unintentionally forgotten, that you cannot say with good conscious that you remember much about being a child at all. 

© 2016 Taylor St. Onge


Author's Note

Taylor St. Onge
I think I need to work the last footnote in more--the idea of memory being so fluid.

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Added on May 24, 2016
Last Updated on May 24, 2016
Tags: poetry, nonfiction, lyrical, essay, childhood, 90s, mother, sister, father, disney

Author

Taylor St. Onge
Taylor St. Onge

Milwaukee, WI



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