Sometimes random moments from life will return with full force. Just now. Me, in the car, age five, lounging in the backseat, flipping through a full-colour, hardcover book featuring Bert and Ernie, along with who knows how many other of their Sesame Street, plush-doll pals.. Somewhere in Niagara, near my home in St.Kitts. Beamsville? Grimsby? Driving through springtime, sunlight slicing its path through the rear window’s small square. One that I often lean against and lean into at night as I watch the moon chase our small car halfway home. The next day a Monday, me in Grade 1, at the front of the class, using this book as my show-and-tell prop. Proud that it’s a hardcover, and not soft to the touch.
Why now, this memory, as I reached for the fan to fight February’s thick heat? (Welcome to the Philippines.) I wasn’t thinking of books, of childhood; I wasn’t thinking of anything.
Alongside this stray recollection, another one soon arises: me with a Mcdonald’s Happy Meal toy, a blue plastic spaceship, a UFO shaped like a spiral, on each window a sticker, the shriek-happy faces of Ronald Mcdonald and friends. I particularly liked that peelable touch, the stickers; all of his buddies together, riding off into space. Something about them all being safe in one spot, awaiting adventure. Again, in the backseat of my car, that invasive hamburger smell perfuming the air, and me with my spaceship, imagining lift-offs.
That, too, became a show-and-tell moment – that Mcdonald’s space-shuttle, unique and short-lived. It wouldn’t be available forever. I had to flaunt its short life-span for all of my friends. Where it is now, I can’t say. That’s all in the ‘ago’.
Oh, please give me these touchstones, again, and again. Such warmth and great feeling. Such majestic emotion, a child’s one true trump card against adulthood’s grim slog. I recently finished Nobel Prize winning German author Gunter Grass’s new memoir, Peeling The Onion, in which he recounts the events of his life with a perplexed tone of candor. He can remember so much, and yet recall so damn little. Some events, crystal; others, only quartz. Opaque. He in his seventies, looking back sixty years; me, in my thirties, the early eighties my young time. The past is not only a foreign country, as a great author once said; it’s also a black hole, one that receives much raw data, but emits precious few signals. Yet still stuff leaks out, and I learn to slip through that hole, all at once, an accident.
If only show-and-tell still existed as life took away our small joys. Me, you, in a room. A small-town Ontario Legion hall all decked out. Soft drinks and hot coffee in Styrofoam cups. Folding tables lining both sides of the room. Metal chairs in neat rows. We all could take turns, the old folks starting first. Talking about the best things in our lives from the week that just passed. Flashing the odd souvenir we picked up from Sunday drives through small towns, or the latest new gadget, nabbed for half-price right downtown. Polite applause as we left the small stage.
I imagine a small kind of miracle as I take to the stage. As I begin to speak, as I open my bag, as I pretend what’s inside is a prop worthy of awe, down from the ceiling will float a blue plastic toy, all those Mcdonald’s friends in their spaceship, not lost at all but just waiting. For me and this moment. Three decades on, it will return to my hands. I will stare at those stickers, those portholes that feature Mayor McCheese in his suit and purple Grimace peeking out. An urge to hurl this ship like a Frisbee will come and then pass. Instead, I’ll clutch it tight, hug it, even fondle its ridges. Wondering if its descent is a fluke, or if it could not have come back until the memory had come first. If it will not return unless I give voice to its thrill. And if this is all true, I will tell everyone there of the joys of my past, staying still on that stage, until the book from that backseat spring drive will somehow pop up.