Thursday, October 20, 2011

Early Memory: Age 4

It is cool and dark in the tiny room, but through her sleep blurred eyes she can see a bright blue sky through the slit in the dark blue curtains. It’s a nice day. Today she can go wading in the water to catch pin fish in her new plastic beach bucket.

Across the room her father is snoring lightly, her mother curled gently into his back, sleeping away the beer and wine of last night’s card game. Her baby brother, cheeks flushed pink, is sleeping soundly in his playpen nestled between the two beds. His arms are thrown above his head, his straw blonde hair sticking straight up at the crown of his head. His stuffed giraffe at the crook of his neck and his blue satin bound blanket kicked around his tiny pyjamaed feet.

She can hear them awake in the kitchen. A tinny old metal radio plays a commercial for the Valley mall, the CFCB call sign, then the voice of a morning dj sends out a song request and a caterwauling Newfoundland country song plays. She can hear a kettle whistle for a moment before the metallic clunk of it being set on a different burner. The acrid smell of coffee and burnt toast. She hears him curse under his breath, then the familiar sound of him scraping toast over the garbage can. She can hear their voices idly chatting to each other. The tinkling sound of a spoon in a china mug.

She blinks her sleep clouded eyes and sits up, throwing back the covers on her cot. She kicks her feet out from under the floral sheets and multi-coloured plaid sleeping bags that cradled her during the night. She stands on the mattress, bouncing on the bed for a moment, looking for her doll, notices him pinned between the bed and the wood paneled wall, and bounces down to pull him out. Her mother rolls over in her sleep, disturbed by the noise she is making. She is careful to be quieter as she slides off the mattress, her toes touching the cold linoleum floor, Albert, the doll, tucked tightly under her arm. She sucks in her little pot-belly as she slides between the worn and heavy wooden dresser and her brother’s play pen. Pauses for a moment to stand on tiptoe and peer in at him, kiss the tip of her finger and poke it into the warm pink flesh of his cheek. He doesn’t even stir, just heaves a sleep filled sigh. She reaches up to turn the glass doorknob and as she opens the door she squints into the sunshine filled living room.

“You’re up already my little dolly!” Poppy says as he chews his jam covered toast.
“Yup. I wants breakfast. Can I have tea too?” She asks, pulling out the scuffed painted chair between the two of them.

“Yis, you can have a cup of tea my love.” Nanny says as she pulls a mug out of the cupboard with a Carebear face on the side. She throws a square teabag into the bottom of it and half fills it with water from the kettle, and then cold water from a jug. She stirs it and puts the cup in front of the little girl who stands on the chair, leaning over the table to reach the sugar dish and the can of Carnation milk. Albert the doll sits propped on the edge of the table, hunched and grinning as always, at his feet.

She digs her spoon into the dish and granules of sugar spill on the green checked table cloth, she does this again, and is going for a third when Nanny says “Getouttadat! Getouttadat! Das enough now, my goodness! You’ll lose all your teeth you keeps puttin’ dat much sugar in your tea!” The little one screws up her face, but goes about pouring milk from the punctured holes in the top of the milk can. It slops over the side of the mug to pool in a ring around the cup that is so full that instead of picking it up, she lowers her head to slurp the tea from the top.

“What are you going to have for breakfast dolly?” Nanny asks. “Do you want toast like Pop, or cereal, like Nan?”

“I wants Special K, and I wants strawberries too!” She says exuberantly, hopping on the seat of the chair.

“Alright” Nan says. “But there’s no strawberries in the fridge so we’ve got to go out to the garden to get them. Don’t go jumpin’ now.” She picks the little one up underneath the arms and sets her on the floor.

The little girl skips around the table and across the living room, running her hand along the scratchy knit blankets covering the worn couches. Nan opens the screen door opening out onto the front patio deck. The morning is already warm. Sun glistens off the lake where Poppy’s little green fibreglass boat is tied to the sun-bleached wharf, bobbing on the gentle waves. Everything is so bright that it appears to be radiating its own light. The brown planks of the deck are warm, almost hot, under her bare feet. She climbs up onto the wooden bench surrounding the patio deck, her thin cotton night dress covered in dancing teddy bears catching and pulling on a knot in the wood. Flakes of old paint rub off and stick to her knees as she knees on the bench, elbows resting on the railing and chin in her hands, watching as Nan roams about the strawberry patch keeping a keen eye out for early berries.

She bends to a plant, pulls a weed alongside it and turns a few berries in her hand. Some of them are bright red on one side, but still green on the other. She pulls one and puts it in the empty yellow Eversweet margarine container she brought with her, moving about to different parts of the patch, placing her feet carefully amongst the plants so as not to step on any of them.

“Oh, I got a big one here! Bet it’ll be some good!”

“Yay!” The little one says, clapping her hands together. A robin lets out a long whistle blast call from the nearby trees and another one answers almost immediately. Her eye is caught by the rainbow coloured, flower shaped pin-wheels in the nearby flower patch, catching the light breeze and spinning amongst the lupins and tiger lillies.

“Look how many we got. We’ll be able to pick some for jam next week.” Nan says as she stands in front of her down in the garden. She holds out the butter container, half full, picks up a berry and pulls the leafy top from it and passes it to the little girl who takes it and pops it in her mouth.

The taste is sun warmed and sweet, full of sugars and juices from the early summer rains. “Let’s go cut them up and put them in your cereal now.”