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More Stories - The Way We Were
Is It Going to Explode?
I have been blessed - and cursed - with an extraordinary memory. I remember quite clearly things that happened when I was crawling and toddling around the floor. I remember sitting on my mother's lap while she practiced the piano or reed organ. She didn't have a playpen for me, and if she put me down, I was immediately in trouble, so she would hold me. When I tried to help her play, she would gently take my hands and put them back in my lap. One day I realized the relationship between the way the printed music looked and what she was playing - I thought of them as "clumpy things" (chords") and "runny things" (apreggios). This kept me occupied while she practiced, and by the age of three I was reading music and the printed word quite well.
Forgetting things is probably nature's way of protecting us from all the dumb, stupid things we did as kids (or as adults). Some mental health specialists believe - as I do to quite a degree - that these memories are all still there. The "labels" have been lost through time so we don't "remember" them, or we have thought about them repeatedly soon afterwards, putting them (and ourselves) in a better light, or trying to make sense of what happened, until the memory, if we can access it at all, is vastly incorrect, as the most retrievable version has been overwritten so many times.
This is not a defect; it is probably a blessing most of the time. But when truly tragic and traumatic events occur, like child molestation, beatings by a parent or care-giver, serious accidents, or horrifying outrages like the recent terrorist attacks, both the immediate effect on ourselves, and on children, can cause serious anxiety and disruption to our lives. Further, if it's not dealt with, memories of these times and the emotions they created can cause life-long problems.
Before I tell this story, let me explain that, oddly, my memories are visual, tactile (feeling of something), odors, emotions, dreams and my thought processes. Except for music, I cannot remember sounds or words; it was as if I were deaf. I think that someone that helped produce the Charlie Brown television specials must have the same trick memory. Remember how when adults speak on Charlie Brown, it's just noise? I recall thinking about what people told me, but cannot remember their words. And I really don't think they're there at all in my memory banks, or at least totally and permanently inaccessible, even to my subconscious.
First, I remember when they announced the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I was barely more than a baby. We had an old Philco radio with a cathedral-design front on a small cherry table in the living room. My mother shrieked, and called everyone in. My questions were hushed as the family crowded around the radio.
I could tell something very bad had happened, and that everyone was upset. I didn't know if something bad would happen to me. I remember they lost patience with me and stopped trying to explain it.
Finally in the kitchen during meal preparation, my questions were listened to. I know they tried to explain what a "harbor" was, and "ships" and "bombs" and "Japanese", but I had never seen such a thing and didn't have a clue. The only word I recognized was "pearl". My mother had a necklace from Tiffany that had some pearls on it. The whole situation was beyond my understanding.
Fast forward: by the time I was in high school, I was trying to dress correctly and stylishly, something in which I basically have little interest. Pearls were in vogue, and my parents gave me a very nice faux pearl necklace. I wore it but always felt uncomfortable. I had some pearl earrings I had made, too, and never felt right wearing them. They made me nervous. Finally in my early twenties, the penny dropped, so as to speak, when wearing my pearl necklace someone mentioned "Pearl Harbor" and I realized that I was associating the pain and horror of that time, and my own fear and total lack of understanding of the threat, to the jewelry. (PS: I still don't like to wear pearls and now I don't! But I know why.)
Second: my favorite toys when I was little were farm machinery, tinker toys, toy trucks, building blocks, puzzles and the like. I never liked dolls and tea sets. When old enough, I always tried to help my dad or my Grandfather when they made repairs to the car or some other equipment or did welding or blacksmithing. Naturally they thought I was just trying to get their attention, and didn't realize the deep interest I had in how things worked. Whenever they did ask me to hold something or help, if they started an engine or motor, I would ask fearfully "Is it going to explode?" Usually what exploded was their temper, and I was sent away.
This fear, which I knew was mostly irrational, carried into adulthood. I would cringe when hubby changed the tubes in the TV or radio. I'd step back whenever a car battery was being connected or a car jump-started. Even though I took auto mechanics and enjoyed working on vehicles, whenever an engine I was leaning over cranked up, there was a frisson of fear. It wasn't until my late forties or so that during one of these incidents I had a flashback that solved the mystery.
There was no commercial TV back in the 1940's. People who wanted to see the news went to theaters, where newsreels preceded the movie. My parents, who were mostly against films for religious and moral reasons, went to selected ones and of course took me along.
It's a fact that many brave photographers and reporters risked their lives - and some lost them - reporting on the war both in Europe and in the South Pacific. It's also a fact that many of these films were staged, with government approval, as people were eager to see what was going on, and filming of most events of the war was not possible. The newsreels, however, were all horribly graphic, partly because the war was awful and secondly, encouraged by the government, to work people up and justify the sacrifices. All I knew at the time was (1) "Japs" were bad, (2) Germans were bad, (3) things blow up, especially vehicles (jeeps, tanks, trucks, airplanes) and machinery (cannons and other artillery), hurting people.
I had never seen a gun fired. I'd never seen fireworks or firecrackers. Nor bombs or blasting. To me, vehicles were just going along and suddenly blew up, killing or maiming the passengers on the screen. I remember the films quite clearly. No wonder I was afraid of machinery even though I was fascinated by mechanics prior to the war. What flabbergasts me is why it took me over forty years to realize the basis of my fears.
And it took me years and years to feel comfortable around persons of German descent, and really only until my son became enchanted with Japanese customs, food and culture some twenty years ago, that I completely got over it.
I don't want to see today's generation of children afraid of skyscrapers, airplanes, germs, car bombs, or persons of Arab descent or of the Islamic faith for the rest of their lives. These fears can be a serious handicap to one's mental health and comfort level, not to mention world peace and harmony.
Read "Parents Can Help", sent to me by my brother, Lloyd Williamson.
Another resource, intended for the holidays but containing excellent advice for dealing with stress, is "Surviving.... Body, Mind and Spirit - Strategies" by Jessica Setnick, MS, RD/LD.
An additional note: healthy people without eating disorders will often get the "nervous munchies" during fearful or stressful times. My own theory is that this reaction is based on a healthy, primitive instinct: "Eat all the available food now in case you have to flee!" Don't get upset at indulging yourself. Just do it within the limits of your diets. Don't eat salt if you are on a low-sodium diet. Don't eat too many carbs or sugars if you're diabetic. Don't eat high-calorie items if you need to watch your weight.
Solutions: After gaining five unwanted pounds during the first horrid week following September 11, instead of stopping the munching, I started serving smaller meals. Stock up on healthy and lower-calorie goodies. Along this line, we stocked up on individual applesauce servings, canned baked beans, extra veggies which I keep prepared in the fridge, Ovaltine, lower-calorie yogurt and so on. Pretzels are good but not a choice for me since I have to watch my blood pressure. So is popcorn if you control the butter.
Take a walk - or scrub the bathroom or kitchen. This not only burns the calories but works out some stress and gives you satisfaction. Garden, if you have one; that's even better. Go to the garden shop and pick up some shrubs or annuals to brighten your life, your mood and your surroundings. Buy a flag and fly it with pride.
If you have kids, go to the park, swimming pool, or just practice ball in the back yard. It's not a bad time to install some new sports equipment they and you would enjoy, such as a badminton net, basketball hoop, tetherball, or other such item. Avoid sports that would cause greater stress, like trying to learn to ride a two-wheel bicycle or learn to skate or swim.
Talk with them, and let them express their feelings. And be good to yourself so you can be good to others. We're all going to need each other in the coming days.