Sounds of My Youth
My kids have been asking lots of questions lately about my own childhood so I have found myself thinking quite a bit about it. I wrote the post below in 2006 but am running it again in large part because reading it helps me to remember other bits and pieces of that are of interest to them. And given that Pesach is less than a week away it seems like an appropriate time to reminisce a bit.
Sometimes I wonder if I spend too much time dreaming. My thoughts flitter around this and that and here and there. In my mind I visualize myself in various places with various people.
Some of it is fantasy and some of is memory. I suppose that you could attribute this to being someone who enjoys creativity and storytelling.
The world is a very interesting place. I never run out of things to do, places to go or people to see. In many ways I am a boy in a man’s body. I love doing new things but I also like thinking about my past. I have many fine memories and I rather enjoy visiting them from time to time.
Certain smells and sounds remind me of the past. Some of them are bittersweet memories of people and places that are no longer part of my life, at least not in the way that they used to be.
For example for the first 28 years of my life my maternal grandparents lived in anÂ apartment complex in West Hollywood.
I remember the drive from my parent’s house in the Valley through Laurel Canyon to Hollywood. If I close my eyes for a moment I can hear the sound of a Dodge Dart or a Chevy Impala Station Wagon. My father is driving. I am sitting right behind him watching his every move. My mother is stationed to the left of him, a younger sister between them and two more to the right of me.
If you watch me drive you can see some of the same gestures my father makes. Watch me get onto the freeway. My foot presses down on the accelerator and I crane my head to the far left, searching for oncoming traffic. I mutter to myself about the traffic around me, some of it is intelligible and some less so. Those are the words that I really strain to hear because my father is cursing the guy who doesn’t understand that you don’t get on the freeway doing 25 MPH or maybe it is the guy in the lime green Ford Pinto who hasn’t enough sense to signal before he switches lanes.
We aren’t on the freeway for all that long before we exit.You get off at Laurel Canyon and make a right. Go straight for a couple of miles and suddenly you are in the middle of the canyon surrounded by the Hollywood Hills. If you know where to look you can see the ruins of Harry Houdini’s home.
The houses are distinctly different from those in my neighborhood. There is a different feel to the area. I am too young to put my finger on it, but I am aware of it early on. The drive through the canyon is pleasant. Maybe it is part of why I enjoy fiction so much because it really feels like a transformation of worlds to me.
I rarely noticed the time in the canyon. One minute I was in the car and the next was spent finding a parking space in front of the building. Their apartment was on the third floor and overlooked the pool. I spent many pleasant hours eating lunch on their balcony and watching people swim.
But one of the things that sticks with me more than anything else was the sound that their front door made whenever it was opened or closed. I can’t really describe it so I won’t bother with an attempt other than to say that in my mind it is a very soothing sound.
I don’t even have to close my eyes to see the way it looked inside. When you opened the front door you stepped into the living room. To your right was a hallway that led to the two bedrooms and a bathroom.
In front of you was the dining room and off to the left lay the kitchen. The kitchen that didn’t have a dishwasher. Just off to the left of the front door was the door to the balcony. An end table was nearby. They stored decks of cards in it that my sisters and I would use to build houses or play games with.
We spent untold hours there. At a Passover seder I proposed marriage to my cousin. She was an older woman but I was a very mature six or maybe she was a very immature seven. One of these days I’ll have to ask her.
It is funny to me how these memories stick with me. Not funny in a humorous way, but funny in the way that just intrigues me. Sounds, sounds, sounds. So manyÂ routineÂ noises that have so much meaning. In the years that have passed I find so many reminders. Certain staircases have a specific echo that makes me remember the days in which my father had the biggest hands of anyone I knew.
Dinners at my parent’s house where my mother suddenly realizes that she has forgotten to serve a dish remind me of an untold number of meals at which my grandmother did the same. Her expression and comments mirroring her mother’s.
It is times like this that I miss my grandmother’s little brother, my uncle. My dear uncle who would wait until the middle of the meal at grandma’s house to ask her what she had forgotten. There was always this mischievous gleam in his eye that I recognized. I might have been a kid, but I was a big brother and that meant that I knew a little something about teasing a sister.
He died unexpectedly in 1985. More sounds at my grandparents. Only this time there is silence. My grandmother is clearly upset but she is hiding her feelings. I am old enough to understand that she is trying to avoid upsetting my sisters. It doesn’t occur to me that maybe she is trying to protect me too.
It is not something that occurs to me because just a few months prior to this I was in Israel. Ten weeks abroad without my parents and I feel like an adult and so I help to maintain the silence there. It is almost unnatural, this silence. There are too many of us and it is just not that quiet.
Later that evening the silence is broken. It is the sound of someone crying. It is my grandmother. She is in the bathroom and she is trying to be quiet, but there is an echo in there. There is an echo that made the children laugh because if you didn’t use the fan it was very obvious what was going on in there. And lord knows that potty humor is high comedy for the five to ten year-old crowd.
Sounds, more sounds and more memories. The complex is built around a large oval swimming pool, an intentional or perhaps unintentional amphitheatre. Voices carry and bits and pieces of conversations float up to the third floor.
Some are stories of fleeing the Nazis or the Cossacks, some are tales of how smart the grandchildren are. Today whenever I hear someone bragging about their grandchildren I remember the conversations from around the pool. Sometimes the sound of someone diving into a pool remind me of the pool at my grandparent’s complex.
This October it will be nine years since they left Hollywood for the greener pastures of Camarillo. I have tried to develop new memories there but it is not the same. I still find myself listening for those old familiar sounds. The screendoor doesn’t squeak and since they no longer live in an apartment there are no footsteps to listen to in a dark staircase.
My grandfather no longer watches for our arrival from the balcony. He stopped smoking cigars when I was about 22 so there are no ashtrays to help stimulate olfactory memories.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandparents dearly and I really have found some special memories in their new home. But it is not the same. They have been there for almost a decade and I still refer to it as the new place.
Sounds, sounds, sounds. I listen for them sometimes consciously and sometimes otherwise but they just aren’t there anymore.