My mind is wandering, a thing it often does when I’m sitting in front of a blank, gaping page. I’m trying to force it down a certain path – find a topic, I’m saying to myself. Find something serious, current…what’s happened recently that I can write about? It won’t listen, though, my mind. My mind has a mind of its own, I suppose. It has continued to wander back to my childhood like a stubborn child who sees a new toy in the grocery store and with sudden, unexpected strength, grabs hold of the attending adult and drags the parent towards the toy. Write about this, it tells me. I don’t know why it wants to write about this foggy, childhood memory. It is nothing extraordinary, just a snippet of time and a glimpse I cannot even guarantee is true. Regardless, it demands to be released.
I have lots of childhood memories that I think came more from pictures and stories my parents have told than from the actual remembering of the event, except this one. I am five years old and live with my two brothers and my parents in a tidy house in Scotia, NY. To the five year old me, this house is huge and full of places for children to explore. (The grown up me has seen it since and time has shrunk the house to the size of a cottage.) If I’m not yet five, I will soon be as my mother is in the hospital having just had her fourth child, my baby sister, and she and I have birthdays that are three days apart. My dad is handling the house, his job, and the three children left at home. Our house is a very dark, green – a shade darker than the lush grass that covers the front yard but the same color as the pine trees that tower above when the needles are fresh and prickly.
All of our bedrooms are upstairs and the downstairs holds an office, a playroom, a bathroom, the kitchen, dining room and living room. It is the office which fascinates me, though. It belongs to my dad. It doesn’t hold much furniture except for one, very large train desk. My father is a resourceful man and good with his hands and he had somehow come upon possession of this giant desk and couldn’t resist bringing it home. He had refinished it in our garage, working on the weekends in the only spare hours he had. Like magic, he brought the wood back to life and made it shiny and slick so my fingers would slide across the top like it was made of glass. It was tall – so tall I could nearly stand straight up underneath.
Eight drawers in two rows run just under the desk’s surface and they held the things my father parked there for lack of a better spot. The drawers were old and hard to pull open and one was always locked. The others I could pry open with two hands pulling on their solid, brass handles shaped like half a tea cup tipped upside down. Old key rings and business cards, stacks of notes he’d taken for his night classes at college, half-written papers and some old family photos. My favorite findings were the coins, though. A few half-dollars and some loose change, really, but in my small hands they felt like chunks of gold. I don’t believe I was allowed to play in the office but I must have sneaked in often to know the contents so well. This morning, my dad is racing around the house, riding herd on my brothers as he’s getting ready for work. I am hiding under his train desk, although I don’t know why. From my spot under the desk, I hear my father approach the office. His tie for work is hanging on the door. I can’t see his hand but I watch the end of the pale, blue fabric with tiny, dark dots lift into the air as he takes it and puts it around his neck. I can smell the aftershave he’s just applied in his own bathroom upstairs. It’s sweet and musky and most likely Old Spice and I have always loved that smell.