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Readers map out childhood memories

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the memory map writing exercise my husband was using in a memoir workshop he was teaching. He had me do the exercise so he could use mine as an example in class.

In a nutshell, I was to draw a map of the street where I lived as a child, then jot down the fragments of memories about the people and places that came to mind as I sketched out my map. I had such a good time with the exercise that I filled several pages. I used some for a column, then asked readers to do a map of their own and share some of their memories.

I love when readers write to share their ideas, comments and stories, and the responses I received from this column were especially touching.

John Pritchard of Huntington wrote of the neighborhood he grew up in during the '40s and '50s:

"I still remember the neighbors' names and memories of each. Next door was the head cashier at a local bank who gave my brother and me a dollar every Christmas, always in a different form (silver dollars, all new dimes, shiny quarters; once a hundred pennies). There were plumbers, factory workers and salesmen living in the houses surrounding us. I only remember one woman working outside the home, and she was my second grade teacher.

"A creek - or crick if you will - ran behind our house. We called it Two Pole as it ran into Four Pole. It was smaller, and that made sense. In the creek were tadpoles, minnows and crawdads that were meant for Mason jars, later to be released to make room for fireflies."

He wrote of the Victory gardens and chicken coops some families had on the other side of the creek.

"After WWII, some abandoned their chicken coops. Could there be a better clubhouse? Little brothers and those who wanted to join the club were 'helpful' in sweeping out and whitewashing the coops. (We didn't read Tom Sawyer for nothing.)"

Debra Cantley of Charleston shared memories of her own childhood in Akron, Ohio, where every Friday as she reached the end of the block where they lived, she could smell bread baking and knew it was coming from their house. It was something her grandmother did every Friday, and to this day, she says the smell of bread rekindles that memory.

"I have a special place in my heart for that house," wrote Cantley. "I remember falling out of the apple tree in the back yard, and as soon as I was home from the hospital, I went right back up in that tree - cast and all. I remember playing jacks, jumping rope in the driveway and learning to ride my first bike on the sidewalk.

"I lived in that house with my grandmother until I was married," Cantley continued. "I went back there last year. The house has been condemned and is being torn down. It's like the house couldn't continue with my grandmother gone."

Another reader, Chris Henry, shared memories of her childhood home:

"I grew up in Cleveland in the '50s and '60s. My backyard was large with a long, wide driveway perfect for skating and bicycle riding. There were probably a dozen kids on my street and our favorite place to play was an overgrown lot on the corner with a broken down crabapple tree that made a great playhouse. We played Tarzan and 'wild horses' and had crabapple wars with the boys.

"We played kickball in the street; learned to swim at the city pool; picked peaches from our neighbor's tree - and when the skinny, red-headed girl found a worm in hers, she screamed, 'Snake! Snake!' and threw down her peach. We teased her mercilessly."

Melissa Keller of Dunnsville, Va., wrote of growing up in Southern West Virginia, where she and her brothers and cousins would take picnic lunches packed by their moms and head off into the woods, along with their family dog, Major.

"It was not unusual for the boys to run off and leave us girls to find our own way, perhaps thinking maybe they'd get lucky and we would get lost. But we knew as long as we had ol' Major, we'd find our way home," wrote Keller.

Some days, Keller said she and the other kids would go into the woods to play house. "We would pick an area and sweep the dirt clean, then find rocks to section off rooms. Large rocks and boards were our furniture. Using jars they found in the cellar, the boys would round up stuff for the girls to can, like the pods from trees and bushes that looked like green beans and peas. We also made trips to the 'grocery store,' which was actually my Dad's workshop, to 'buy' other supplies.

"Children today have opportunities and technology that we never could've imagined," wrote Keller. "But I wouldn't trade my childhood memories for any of that."

And neither would I.

Karin Fuller can be reached via e-mail at karinfuller@cnpapers.com">karinfuller@cnpapers.com. Her columns can be accessed online through her blog at thegazz.com.


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