Three weeks ago at my dad's 60th birthday party at the Palmyra Township Pavilion, a woman walked in with curly bronze hair, tan skin, a bright white shirt, some type of pretty necklace, a vibrant smile and laugh. As happens at events in my hometown, there had been people walking in all afternoon who I felt I should know but who I couldn't place, each one cementing in the Block of Guilt surrounding the memories about my hometown that escape me day by day. Even my sister and brother, who are older and who have been away from the hometown for even longer, seem to magically know everyone, and when I double check with them on who someone is--including when it's someone in my own family--they give me this look like, "Come on, Jill." There is something faulty in my memory which worries me. Regardless. I had been trying to narrate who people were to Kathy all afternoon, and when this woman walked in, I said, "I know her. I should know that person. But I have no idea who it is."
Inevitably, the woman came up to me, knew my name, was excited to me. I said what I had been saying all afternoon to everyone else, a neutral yet enthusiastic "HI!," followed by a, "Hey, this is Kathy." The woman shook Kathy's hand, said, "I was Jill's second grade teacher!"
Right. That was who she was.
Immediately, memories started to come back. Mrs. Williams. Sheila Williams. Duh. I mean, who forgets their elementary school teachers? I guess I do.
Trying to recover from the guilt of not knowing her name, I pounced on the one memory that was coming back crystal clear. "Egypt! You went to Egypt and showed us pictures and it was so cool."
She let a little eye roll escape. "I never stop hearing about Egypt. Even now, parents don't stop telling me how much their kids talked about Egypt after my class. Egypt, Egypt. And most of these parents have never even taken their kids to New York City."
It had never occurred to me that hearing parents talk to her about Egypt would be something she would get tired of. Of course, in my current adult mind, it was immediately clear. I pictured all those kids and parents constantly wanting to talk about her travels to Egypt for years, and if it were me--oy, with the Egypt already! I laughed along with her, "God, that must be annoying. Sorry to bring it up."
But as a kid, Egypt was one of those things that was like a fairy tale, a magical place full of gold and gems, an illusion that still lingers somehow and doesn't quite align with reading about Arab Spring, about the place it actually is now, about Cairo being a bustling city full of high rises and dirt like the rest of the cities of the world, the Nile being an actual river that still exists as opposed to a bright blue sliver on our Social Studies textbook page. And why? What do we even remember about it? Tut? Does anyone remember anything other than Tut? Even when I read stories about archaeology in Egypt in my National Geographics today, even when they're about the same exact stuff we learned about in second grade, it doesn't seem as exciting as it did then. The fairy tales of our memories still conflict with reality and still leave an unsatisfying disconnect somewhere in our subconscious.
This story doesn't follow the prompt, exactly, of course, because the truth is even when children's lit is the apple of my eye, when it comes to remembering what it actually felt like to be a child, myself, I'm still shit. Because my memories warp and fade to the extent where I can't even recognize my second grade teacher when I see her in the flesh, let alone remembering what I actually did that year other than learn about Egypt, let alone how it actually felt to be seven. Bringing Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk into my second grade life sounds fun, but is something I'm not able to create authentically yet.
But maybe a start would be to continue documenting when a memory is able to fish its way to the surface of my brain, when I'm in my hometown and see my second grade teacher and say, Hey, I remember you showed us pictures of when you went to Egypt, and when, for the briefest of seconds, I do remember being seven. It's not much, but it's something, and it normally slips away as fast as it comes, so maybe I should take those moments when I'm lucky enough to find them and hold on for all they're worth.