I called my older sister today to ask her questions about odds and ends of memories which have been residing in my brain for a week or two. She confirmed what I thought I remembered. The reason I was unsure was because of the age I would have been when certain incidents took place, based on where we lived. I know that most people don’t remember when they were two or less, but I do.
My recent memories didn’t come out of nowhere. I did some writing prompts using Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away. These were ten-minute exercises using “I remember…” and I was to do several of them. I started out in the yard of a house our family lived in when I was very young. This was a house we moved to when my dad came home from the army. I was three when he got home. A year later my little sister was born. I’m four years older than she. She’s a baby boomer. I’m not. I went from the yard to all manner of memories of people and events while we lived there. Not all of them are pleasant to recall, but the mulberry tree in that yard was because it was mostly my mulberry tree.
The tree pictured above looks very much like the one I remember. Notice how dense the branches and foliage are. Our house stood on a sort of knoll and my mulberry tree was below the house at the foot of the knoll. I was probably four and five when I would climb up in that tree and watch the world around me. The branches were low and easy to climb. Sometimes my brother would join me there. When the mulberries got ripe I would eat them until I had very purple hands. I imagine my face looked a bit bruised too. I don’t remember whether my brother liked the berries. Not everyone does. When they’re ripe they look like blackberries, only longer. I thought they looked like big black caterpillars when I was little.
Here’s the coolest thing about that tree. Once I got up fairly high and settled on a reasonably sturdy limb, I couldn’t be seen. There I was observing and learning and hiding. We lived in the country so we were allowed to play freely. Probably too freely sometimes. Eventually my mom would call me. I would answer, “I’m down here.” Mom would say, “Come on up here. You’ll have those old mulberries all over you.” My sister told me today that I used to ruin all my panties by sitting on “those old mulberries.”
Thinking about hiding in that tree so long ago gives me a lot to ponder. I spent a great deal of my childhood and teenage years hiding from my family. Why? So many reasons. My father was an alcoholic. My mother was an enabler and a nervous wreck. I had two little sisters and I was often charged with caring for them. Our life was pretty chaotic a lot of the time. I think the hiding still haunts me and who I am today. And certainly who I was in both of my failed marriages. What serves you well as a survival skill when you’re a child no longer serves well when you’re an adult. Alas, those early-formed patterns are not so easy to change even when we recognize them for what they were and are.