Tag Archives: memories

Anyone know where I put my keys?

“Who was it that went to the piscine?”my wife asked the other day as she walked into our family room where I was sitting watching television.

I wasn’t sure what sparked the question, although conversations about the French language have recently been popping up in our home as my son is taking the class in middle school. It’s a story I’d shared with her before.

“Phillipe” I responded. “I’ll remember that for the rest of my life!”

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When I started taking French classes in New York, in 7th grade of Junior High (that’s what us old people called “middle school” back in the day) we had a French textbook that we would read from.

“Open up to lesson one, we are going read aloud” the teacher would say. She would always read the lines first so we had at least some guidance as to how we should sound.

Speaker 1:  “Où est Sylvie?”

Speaker 2:  “Au lycée.”

Then she would point out some poor kid in the front row to start and one by one each student in class would read the two-line conversation, trying desperately not to mangle the words.

Once the last student had read, the teacher would continue.

“Please turn to the next page.”

Again she would read first before asking each student to read aloud.

Speaker 1: “Où est Phillipe?”

Speaker 2: “À la piscine.”

Some kids would get it right, some would get it sort of right. Some kids, especially those with the thickest Long Island, New York accents, would read the text and the teacher would follow-up with a long dissertation on tongue placement, including lots of nasally sounds and exaggerated lip formations.

During that one year of 7th grade French class I’d estimate each student read those four lines somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,726,864 times. Who says rote school lessons don’t work?

I never really learned much French even after taking four years in secondary school and another two semesters in college. I just was never very interested, I guess. But, I’ll tell you this… when I’m on my deathbed someday, I’ll still know where the hell both Sylvie and Phillipe were!

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In my junior high school there was this kid named Peter Curto. He was an eighth grader when I was a seventh grader. Peter was a tough kid, with long, sandy brown hair and always dressed in jeans, heavy black boots, a t-shirt and even while inside the school he’d be sporting one of several denim jackets he owned that were decorated on the back with full-size appliqués of rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Blue Oyster Cult. Our school called these kids “heads” back then or “dirtbags” if you really wanted to pull out a derogatory description for someone.

Peter was not a mean guy, at least not that I remember. He wasn’t necessarily intimidating like some of the kids in junior high that looked like they were thirty-five years old with beards and muscles and thick silver chains connecting their wallets to their belts, while I was working my hardest to just barely sprout out a few pubic and armpit hairs.

I knew Peter smoked cigarettes and assumed he was involved in plenty of other illicit activities. I sometimes wondered what his home life was like, but in reality I didn’t really know him very well. But for whatever reason he would often sit at the same lunch table with me and my posse of unbelievably dorky friends. There we would be, clustered around a table in the cafeteria, my friends and I dressed in khakis and Izod polo shirts and eating Wonder Bread Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches that our Mom’s had made and packed up in a brown paper bags for us to bring to school. And there would be Peter Curto, in the middle of all of us, perhaps like a bouncer or security guard, but more likely standing out like a Biker at a Mensa convention.

One day during lunch, Peter came to the table a little bit late, carrying a banana. He sat across from me and I watched as he cracked the stem of the banana and started tearing its yellow peel off. He didn’t say anything to the group, just worked on peeling that banana until he was holding the bottom like a handle with three or four sections of peel hanging over his hand. Then he took a big bite, chewed it up and swallowed it, looked over at me and said “man, I fucking love bananas!”

That’s it…that’s the story.

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I don’t know why I remember that day or more specifically that five or so minutes of my life. Or those four lines from my 7th grade French textbook. It’s really not information that needs to be socked away in my brain like some important document or cherished family heirloom tightly secured in a lock-box at the bank. There are many other seemingly irrelevant moments in my life that I clearly remember as well, to the point where I have this mental list in my memory of minor events, conversations, passing happenings, that frankly I shouldn’t be remembering but likely always will. Remembering each one, of course, reinforces it even stronger.

Sometime as I get older and more forgetful, I wonder how much brainpower and space this stuff is taking up.

If I could get rid of some of these memories, maybe I wouldn’t have such a hard time remembering where I put my keys.

Perhaps I left them “á la piscine.”

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My house smiled at me today…

My house smiled at me today. I didn’t actually see her smile, but I know she did. We’ve just had her painted, and I know that she feels good when we take care of her. Her old bare and peeling soffits and trim and window frames and siding are tightly sealed up, caulked and primed and painted. Her wooden sections all match once again, the old and the new, the worn and the fresh, all the same cream color, subtly contrasting with her century old brick façade. A shiny new coat of green paint covers both of her outside doors, a splash of color worn like a spring scarf. Her roof is new as of last fall, the upside of an aggressive hail storm that ripped through our area, and resulted in a rash of insurance claims and a windfall of business to the local roofing contractors.

I stood in front of her today and I told her she looked beautiful and she smiled at me. I didn’t actually see her smile, but I know she did. She smiled because she now knows and trusts me as her caretaker of the last sixteen years. She smiled because she now knows that I have been willing to put my own blood and sweat and money into keeping her solid and beautiful. She smiled because she knows me now as she has known all of her caretakers before me, likely dozens of men and women and even children who have cared enough about her to keep her structurally strong and vibrant and standing proudly for over 120 years. She smiled at me because I told her she looked beautiful.

I do believe that I am her caretaker. Yes, she is the house that protects us from the elements. Yes, she is the place where my family has made sixteen years worth of incredible memories. Yes, she is the only home my two children have ever known and likely will know until they move out on their own. Yes, she is the place where my family has shared smiles and tears, hugs and fights, ups and downs. Yes, she is the place where we have celebrated the miracle of babies born and mourned the deaths of those who have left us. Yes, she is the place where birthdays and anniversaries and holidays have been celebrated. Yes, she is the place that has made us feel content and warm and safe for sixteen years and hopefully many more decades to come.

Yes, she is all of those things and for that I consider myself immensely blessed. But she is also so much more. She is a piece of history that harkens back to the days before automobiles and electricity and indoor plumbing were prevalent. She is a reminder of where we came from, a time when houses were built on the backs of strong men with a meager assortment of hand tools, yet possessing incredible craftsmanship skills. She is a reminder of a time when rural living and one room schoolhouses and fresh food and hard work reigned supreme. She is our personal museum and I am her caretaker and I take that responsibility seriously.

My house smiled at me today. I didn’t actually see her smile, but I know she did. Someday, she will have a new caretaker, and a new one after that and on and on and on. For now though, I am her caretaker and I will continue to do my part to make sure she is still standing proudly for many more wonderful years to come. If I am lucky, down the road, when my wife and I are old and gray and feeble, we will still be able to stand in front of her and tell her that she looks beautiful. I hope that she smiles at us then as well… and perhaps even says “thank you.”

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