Earliest Memories

What were yours? At times I try to recall mine. For awhile I thought it was when I was about 6, playing in the backyard at Paul Revere Road. My parents had gone to Michigan by car, and the lady who babysat for the week let us stay out late – way past dark. I don´t remember what I was doing except that night had fallen and I was running happy. I was also a little worried that my mother and father would find out when they returned a week later. If they did, they never said anything.

But then I remember one Christmas Eve, when I was much younger. I was crying, balling – about what, I have no idea. I was in the dining room, between the white clothed table already set for Christmas dinner and the credenza topped with glass bowls of peppermint candies and cashews. Through my wet eyes in the candlelight, I watched my mother and sister lean down and sing to me: ¨You better watch out, you better not shout. Santa Claus is coming to town.¨ They were so happy, and they were just trying to make me feel better. But they were so exaggerated and looked so goofy – goofy enough I stopped crying.

One day I got lost. My parents could not find me. They were frantic. The  fire department was called. Everyone joined in searching the neighborhood for me. No one knew where I was. Finally, after several hours, they found me asleep by the coal bin in the storage shed below the second floor porch. The dirt floor shed (the same size as the porch above it) was framed in dark green lattice. The door wobbled when opened. I don´t remember going in. I don´t remember being found, but I have a vague sense of lying there asleep, neither happy nor sad.

One day, when I was a bit older, my mother caught me playing with matches. She was worried and asked the Chief of the Needham Fire Department what she should do. He suggested that she sit me down on a stool in the kitchen and make me light match after match after match. So that´s what I did, sitting near the breakfast nook in the middle of the kitchen with a large rectangular red, white and blue box of Diamond wooden safety matches. I couldn´t believe my luck. What fun! And this was supposed to be punishment? My mother got tired before I did. I can´t say whether her plan worked or not. I don´t remember what caused her concern in the first place, though I now know the famous Coconut Grove fire earlier in the 1940´s may have started when a busboy, Stanley Tomaszewski, lit a wooden safety match to illuminate an electrical socket into which he was trying to screw a lightbulb. Nightclubs, I later discovered, are an intrinsic part of my heritage. Other than roasting marshmallows, I never had a further fixation with fire, at least the ones you can see. But I still have fond memories of that day in the kitchen striking safety matches while sitting on a red topped stool, and trying not to smile.


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