Thursday, November 11, 2010

notes from childhood

I'm in the itchy red tights and witch shoes.
One of my earliest memories was my dad teaching me how to curtsy in preparation for a trip to some big, important building in Vienna.  He was a med student, so it could have been the well-known University, but the only thing that seared itself into my brain matter about the actual day of the curtsy was itchy tights and the walk next to my father through a large, fancy hall, and up a grand staircase of some sort.  The actual curtsy I've re-formed in my mind, but knowing me, it probably came off as more of a bow.

Vienna was my home the first six years of my life.  We lived in the 18th Bezirk, among all the foreigners: Indian diplomats, Hungarian dignitaries, British students.  The mid-sixties in Vienna were much less a clash than here.  For instance, hippies were non-existent. My parents attended actual balls.  My mother was chic and young and resourceful, and sewed her own ballgowns whilst wringing out our laundry in the hand-crank washer she had set up in the kitchen.

My best friends were an Indian brother and sister. In my memory, they were named Banti and Apu, respectively--which is odd, since Apu is a boy's name, but, whatever.  They hailed from New Delhi and had servants and great outfits.  Our families lived in a fancy apartment house which has since become Vienna's Indonesian Embassy.  Inside those wrought iron gates we tricycled and climbed a small tree.  Once, Banti took a crap in the ornate swimming pool in the backyard--his log of a turd floating by the concrete lions who seemed to avert their eyes at the sight.  I loved Banti. Together we terrorized my little sister, Patti, and threw her stuffed monkey in the well--also in the backyard. Banti's little sister was shy and mostly hid behind her governess's skirts watching her brother being scolded.

I've been back to Vienna only a couple of times since, and each time I've trollied out to District Eleven to press my face against the iron gates of my formative home.  My last trip, I snuck in with my son, Sam. We squeezed through the shutting gate just behind a Diplomat who'd been buzzed in, and scurried 'round the back, to the daylight basement windows at the rear of the house which had vented our small family way back when.

Disappointingly, the windows looked into office space.  Where memory recalled a small desk where my father sat typing out a paper, calling to my mother for spelling reassurance, now sat metal tables upon which reams of paper lay.

Out back, no stuffed monkey in the well, no swimming pool in which to poop, and everything so much smaller.  Sam, of course, was nonplussed, as he had been with all of Europe, counting the minutes until he was free from being dragged abroad, back to his eggs and bacon breakfasts, his marathon Friends reruns. His garage poker games and furtive PBR swilling.

What will Sam's sentimental salmon-like returns to childhood entail, I wonder. He's lived in Portland since the age of two, and currently resides less than ten miles from the bulk of his many formative homes.  But then, Sam is a much more pragmatic person than myself.  Even if he had been steeped in a somewhat exotic childhood landscape, with the children of dignitaries shitting up the Rococo garden features of his frame of reference, his notation of the act wouldn't be any larger than, say, his adolescent escapades where he and his buddies guzzled a gallon of milk in the park on a dare, just to see the color of their respective vomit.

But then, that's the beauty of half-remembered sentimental journeys.  One person's sacred construct is the next's person's shrugged shoulders.

1 comment:

  1. Really loved this, Suzy. Great writing, as always.


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