Sunday, June 26, 2011

Time Capsules on My Doorstep (Week 3 of Fireflies at Dusk: A 52-Week Project)

The stories in these books were at least a temporary distraction from the Cold War, Chernobyl, and everything else going on.

Over the past couple of decades I've had this surfacing thought of a set of readers we used at an elementary school in a small town I lived in for a few years.  I wasn't sure why, but I knew that I needed to find these books again.  A couple of the things I had remembered of these books were that one had a huge green star on it, and that another one was called Signposts.  These two random bits weren't enough info to find them with a search engine, but every few years I'd try to anyway.   

Something just kept calling me to go back and find these books.  The idea of this would not leave me alone.   

Finally, one busy afternoon recently when the thought of these old books was hovering around,  I stopped what I was doing and made up my mind that I couldn't wait any longer to find them.  I set down everything in my hands, closed my eyes, focused intently on the image I remembered of the books on the shelf of my third grade classroom,  and I could see the words "Houghton Mifflin" on the spine.  At that point I realized I knew the publisher, and with that last bit of recovered info I finally found the collection of these out-of-print readers from all those years ago.  I ordered two from the set on Amazon.

I had loved the stories in these books.  I flipped through them when they were delivered to my porch, and I found it to be a pretty emotional thing to go through these little time capsules of my life. This week I decided to figure out why these old books are so important - something that keeps springing out of your subconscious for so many years has to be important.

I discovered it was because they represented that I could maybe get somewhere in life.
I loved the feeling that every time my reading group finished a book from the set and put it back on the shelf, we could move up a level to a new reader.  It was so satisfying knowing that I was getting somewhere.  By contrast, I remember getting moved down in math since I couldn't do well at it.  That sick, sinking feeling when they told me I had to go to a lower level math class was the same sick feeling when I was in my twenties whenever it was the last day of a temp job and I wasn't sure when the next job or paycheck was coming.

So much of the Gen X existence has been a feeling of spinning your wheels, worrying that you aren't getting anywhere, so the things that have made us feel that maybe we could get somewhere in life became very important to us.

I opened these books to find 1978/1979 as the school years these were used - one from a school in California, one from some school in Montana.  So to all you Gen Xers out there who remember going to elementary school during the Energy Crisis, this blog is for you.  When I hold these books, I am holding the collective experience of every Gen X kid who read them, even if now they don't even remember...


(Image: Copyright 1974 by Houghton Mifflin Co.)  
(c)  2011 words and photograph by Chloe - all rights reserved

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Colors of a Gen X Childhood: (Week 2 of Fireflies at Dusk: A 52-Week Project)


This was play dough week. 

When I inhaled the smell of the fresh play dough, the scent took me back to some elementary school classroom in the early 80s where the weather was rain and thunder, and the air balmy from the open windows.  It made my heart skip a beat with how real another time and place can be brought back alive with just the scent of something.  I've noticed the same thing can happen with a very distinct color. Sometimes a color unexpectedly catches my eye in the most random place - maybe a candy wrapper in my peripheral vision as I am waiting in line to pay for groceries.  Then my mind turns into an old VHS player, like I can actually hear the tape rewinding until it stops to show me a still image memory long forgotten - maybe the color of the key chains they sold at the gift shop at one of the places I used to roller skate, or the color of my old best friend's Swatch.

If you were a child of the 70s, your memories may be filled with earth tones of pea green, rust, or gentle hues of yellow.  If you were a child of the 80s, your memories may include splashes of florescent pink, green and blue.  My childhood included both worlds. 

My little one was jumping up and down with delight as I introduced her to play dough for the first time.  She knew exactly what to do - she got a pinch from every color and rolled it into a ball of swirled design.  I love seeing all of her firsts.  The colors and scents of a Gen X childhood being brought to life just by taking the lid off a plastic container...

...a blue froggy-penguin emerges.
(c) 2011 photo and writing by Chloe - all rights reserved

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pizza and Atari Night (Week 1 of Fireflies at Dusk: a 52-Week Project)

What goes together better than pizza and Atari?
This last week my husband and I set aside a night to enjoy them both.

We threw a cheese pizza in the oven and sauteed some vegetables to throw on top.
It was just the untangling of a few wires and the digital bliss began.

Going back a few years when my husband and I were engaged, we met up downtown after work one blustery winter evening for dinner at a restaurant where I love to celebrate my birthday.  When the evening was done, we walked back to his car past the twinkle and glow of storefront lights, and I clutched my wool coat around me as little raindrops spattered on on our cold cheeks.  We jumped into the car shivering, and turned on the heater to get warm.  He reached into the back seat to grab an Atari Flashback waiting for me.  It was the best birthday gift a 30 year old Gen Xer could receive.

This was the week to dust it off for the first time in a while and now we are at a very different place in life.   Since we're coming into the warmth of summer we opened the windows to let a breeze into the room, our sodas fizzed as we poured them over ice, and the leaves on the trees outside the window peeked in to see what we were doing.  

What caught my attention the most as we had our game night were those familiar quirky digital sounds. Those sounds were a rhythmic pattern on the backdrop my childhood that are as as much a part of me as the sounds of the ocean would be to someone who grew up on a coastline.  Those sounds, created by some programmer many years ago, held in between their wavelengths a certain grace that made me feel, even if just for a moment, that everything would be okay.

We sampled several games we'd never played, and then got really into some old favorites like Pong.  Nothing's changed since the early eighties - I'm still terrible at Space Invaders.  I'm still awesome at Maze Craze.  I'm glad I'm Generation X.

(c) 2011 writing and photography by Chloe - all rights reserved