Nov 8, 2016


When I first thought about childhood memories, I figured this would be easy and kind of fun. But I found that all the "random" memories that popped into my head were negative. My childhood wasn't terrible, I don't think.  Despite some very dark early early years up until the age of 7, the rest of my childhood left little to complain about it.  I was cared for by a loving mother who worked from home so she could be with us. I was watched over by two stern but loving grandparents.  My siblings and I spent our formative years in a big house with a massive yard and a lot next door grown wild-it was perfect for exploring and adventures.

I remember this photo session in St. Croix around 1981-82 vividly. 

So I'm not sure why the memories that seemed to come to mind weren't happy ones. I've often said that my life started at the bottom and has been getting steadily better ever since.  I know school was not enjoyable for me. I don't suppose I felt terribly bullied or anything. But I don't know that I ever felt I truly belonged until at least high school.  There was a lot of outright racism that I just sort of lived with in school and at church.  Whether it was one of the pathfinder parents joking about running over a black guy during one of our can drives, while I sat in the back seat or the math teacher saying that he hates n*****s (helpfully clarifying that he didn't mean all black people, just the "bad" ones.  I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I had always been a "good one"--or so I was often told), casual racism was a part of life for me growing up.  I don't feel like I carry any bitterness over it, and at the time I wasn't angry.  Mostly, I was just confused.

Maybe because I'm a teacher, it was mostly school memories that came to mind.  But I find I didn't really want to dwell on those memories.  Home was a happier place.  So:  three of my happiest,most vivid memories from childhood

Christmas with the cousins:
My mother's sister Patsy, and her family often came down from Michigan to spend the Christmas holidays with us.  We counted the days until their supercool two-tone blue GMC van would pull into our driveway.  The visits of the Saliba family were always so much fun.  My cousin William, my brother Vince and I would play "sneak" at  night after bed time, crawling in what we thought was a stealthy fashion out into the living room where the adults were talking until we'd be caught by grandma sent back to bed.  There were magical visits to the Magic Kingdom. Even though for lunch we had to eat egg-salad sandwiches packed in grandma's blue Pan-Am bag instead of eating tasty (and pricey) Disney food, we loved our days at Disney.  I remember Christmas mornings when the tree would be dwarfed by a sea of presents that spread from the base of the tree halfway across the living room floor.  And then there were the family movie productions.  The best one was the first one, a Trinidadian take on the Christmas Carol that we called "A Christmas Creole."  Grandpa played Scrooge, William the young Scrooge of the past, Uncle Robert the hip, motorcycle riding ghost of the future. I was lucky enough to get the role of the ghost of Christmas past, and delivered my lines in a trembling high pitched voice. In our version of the Dicken's classic it wasn't Marley or the Christmas Spirits that cured Scrooge of his stingy ways but a visit from someone far more fearsome--Tante Merle, my uncle Slimen dressed in hilarious drag and delivering a stinging rebuke in heavy Trinidadian patois.

Summers at the Beach:
In the late 80s the Uncle Slimen and Aunt Patsy started making summer trips to Florida as well, and the whole Thomson tribe would get a condo at Bradenton Beach, Sanibel Island, or Anne Marie Island for a few days.  I remember well hours of swimming (in the pool more than the beach as I recall), watching rented VHS movies that sounded good but turned out awful or not for kids or both (Room with a View and Death Before Dishonor are burned on my brain to this day).  I remember sleeping on the carpeted floor of those luxurious condos laughing with William and Vince for hours and then falling asleep to the comforting hum of the air-conditioner.

The House in St. Croix:
We lived for a year after my parents divorce with my grandparents in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands before we all moved to Florida.  Grandpa was the conference president and I remember him and grandma leaving for work every morning in their Volvo station wagon, grandma wearing her brown and beige conference office uniform. I remember the rambling house, the wooden louvers on the windows, watching the lights of petroleum plant twinkling in the distance from our living room window.  I remember the stacks of old Time magazines neatly stored on shelves outside of grandma and grandpa's bright airy master bedroom.  I remember eating porridge (what we called cream of wheat) with condensed milk and raisins for breakfast in the kitchen in the middle of the house.  I remember the somewhat creepy playroom we hardly ever went into, even though it had clearly been designed as kid's paradise with giant cartoon figures painted on the walls.  I remember how beautiful the house was when my grandparents were hosting big dinner parties, when they turned on the colored lights around the garden fountain outside and the house was filled with laughter and warmth and the smells of good food. I'm realizing now that the house in St. Croix is one of the places I felt most safe and most happy in my childhood.

This is the St. Croix oil refinery whose lights used to comfort me when I was child looking out the living room window of my grandparents hilltop home on Red Rock Road. It's closed now.

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