The Way We Were INDEX 1  2   3
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I Remember My Life as A Child
by Walter Mills

On bright and cloudless June days I think of childhood and Florida, black shadows etched under the avocado trees, the mineral smell of the pump house and the sound of the mower whirring in the long grass.

And my grandmother, round and matronly, white hair pinned in a bun, watering a hundred houseplants she has potted and set out on tables or along the window sills in the front room of her little stone house among the orange trees.

And the big radio playing the Lone Ranger theme in the afternoon while I lie down for a nap on the daybed among the red and green striped plants. “Hi-yo, Silver. Away!” as I drift off to dreamland.

When I was five my grandmother was stung by a scorpion as she reached into the linen closet to pull out a blanket. Fear or a reaction to the poison triggered a heart attack. She was taken to the hospital where she stayed for several days. My strongest memory of this time is of standing alone at night on the lawn of the hospital below her second floor window. I was too young to be allowed to visit, but had been told if I stood where she could see me she would wave.

In memory I see her clearly, leaning toward the window, wearing her blue hospital gown, her hair half undone. She waves briefly and then lies back out of sight. My brother and sister, who are older, have been allowed into her room, and I feel that a terrible wrong has been done me, standing alone out on the great, green lawn. Their rules are unfair, I say to myself. They don’t know me; I can be as quiet as anyone. I am a good, obedient boy. It may be this emotion, which I can still feel, that gives the memory its unusual clarity.

When my grandmother came home to her little stone house she had changed. She had “gone into the light” at the moment of her heart attack, had seen loved ones who had gone on before her standing in the bright light beckoning to her. She had seen her child, my father’s younger brother who died at age three, waiting for her. She had briefly crossed to the other side before the gravity of physical existence had dragged her back.  I don’t think she had any intention of coming back. A Christian lady, raised all her life on Bible stories and visions of heaven, she looked forward to the completion of her physical life and the beginning of her spiritual existence. It was a disappointment to be thrust back into an aching body and a fallible world.

For that reason, or because of some change in brain chemistry brought on by her heart attack, she did not come back completely from the other side. Her moods and perceptions were distorted. She became increasingly paranoid, and the depression, for which she had been hospitalized after the death of her son, recurred. A few months before my seventh birthday, we left my childhood home, and I did not see my grandmother again.

It is hard for me to imagine heaven. I can’t quite locate it, and I don’t understand its geography. We are taught as children that there will be mansions and streets of gold. Is it a city, then? Or are those simple attempts to describe the indescribable?

When I try to imagine heaven instead I think of Florida as it was before the fall. I am four or five, and I have come out of the bright blue cloudless June day into the cool green of the porch. A snack is waiting on the table, a bottle of 7-up and a jelly donut that I will share with my grandmother. The radio is humming as it warms up, and the Lone Ranger is about to begin.

(The above column originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times and is copyright © 2005 by Walter Mills. All rights reserved worldwide.  )

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