My wife complains to me that all my stories are sad. Honestly, I don’t set out for pathos when I tell them — I think my childhood was rather entertaining!
Well, I guess it’s Schadenfreude Monday all over again.
I’ll say it’s a common situation. I will recount some fond memory from my childhood. I wax nostalgic, a faraway look in my eyes. I finish the story and Nicole says, “That’s the saddest story I’ve ever heard.” I suppose she’s right, but I enjoy the slice-of-life aspect — I really don’t feel that sad about them as I recount the events. But really, they are kind of depressing.
What’s funny is I have a hard time listening to stories just like that on This American Life for that exact reason: even when This American Life stories are kind of uplifting they’re also filled with such sadness I just feel really bummed in the end.
I’ll let you gauge them. Maybe this post I’ll go for maudlin.
The Deflated Bouncy Ball
I remember my folks once brought home some of those cheap, inflated rubber balls for my sister, Michelle, and me. You know the ones — about 12″, probably cost a dollar a-piece. At the time I don’t think my brother was in the picture, so I would have been 3 probably.
I remember noticing that there was a little hole in one end, and I wondered if that’s how air got into it. I sort of had the idea that you could inflate things with a pump, because I do remember thinking you could inflate the ball with the bike pump in the garage. Not sure how I got that idea; I might have seen dad doing something like that. Perhaps, I posited to myself, you could let some of the air out by pressing on it.
Which is why I thought it might be interesting to shove a needle into the hole to see if it would let the air out. Destroying my sister’s ball in the process. I remember getting in a lot of trouble, and I remember trying to explain that you could just reinflate the thing and I really didn’t mean to destroy it. But I was three and you can’t really communicate when you’re three, let alone with a speech impediment. So Michelle got my ball. It felt terribly unfair, but I had to give mine to my sister. I never got a replacement ball.
Can’t Hold the New Brother
Another of my earliest memories is a photo-shoot with my new baby brother, Daniel. There is a photo floating around of my sister holding my baby brother, about 7 months old, at the time. There is also a photo of just my sister holding Daniel. Lastly, there is a photo of me with red eyes and Daniel sitting next to me with my arm sort of on him, and you can see someone’s hand coming in off the frame, holding him up.
I really wanted to hold Daniel by myself. I suspect I wanted this both because he was my brother but also because Michelle got to hold him unaided. I do remember there was a small argument between mom and dad about this, whether or not they thought it was safe. Eventually the compromise was that they would take the photo very quickly, but Daniel couldn’t be on my lap. I cried a bit about not being able to hold him unaided.
I still think I totally could have held him and kept him from falling off.
The Dry Slip ‘n’ Slide
When I was in 1st grade, my brother, sister, and I begged and begged our parents for a slip ‘n slide. It looked like so much fun! Eventually our parents relented and got one for us.
We took it outside, unrolled it, and then ran back into the house to askfor assistance hooking up the hose.
“Why does it need to be hooked up to the hose?” asked our dad.
“Because that’s how it works! Water runs across it so you can slide like a water slide!”
“Well you can’t run the water, that’ll cost a fortune! You can spray it down and turn it off. Take turns.”
So we just didn’t use it. Cause that would have been a giant pain in the ass.
The Sad Train
My fifth Christmas I received a train set from my parents. They also got me a long piece of fiber board, maybe six feet by four feet. The idea was dad and I would construct an elaborate diorama on that board, together. Green hills, little houses, the whole thing. A model railroad.
I ended up carting that board around with us across five moves, completely unfinished. In fact, barely started. The most that ever happened was I nailed down some tracks. We started with a general layout, ran into an issue getting the tracks aligned, and then held off to purchase some piece or something. And then something always came up, preventing us building it out or going forward. Perhaps my folks did a little looking and found out how expensive it can be to have a model train set. It really is a racket, those tiny houses are exorbitantly priced.
There was also a standing rule that I wasn’t allowed to operate it by myself The tracks were connected to a big, scary, blue box that powered the tracks with the word “power transformer” on it. Though it wasn’t really a danger, that terrified my parents. So the train became a thing that I couldn’t play with by myself, and couldn’t finish by myself.
Years later, after 5 houses and one divorce, I got a wild hair and tried to finish it sometime in early highschool. But everything was 10 years old at that point, slightly rusted from moves across two states, and really it was just an oval on bare wood. I didn’t have money for it, and it really is expensive to have a model train set. The scary blue box with the word “power transformer” on it didn’t really work anymore. I gave up and leaned the board in the corner of my room. Eventually the cats peed on it. Then I threw it away, tracks and all.
I’m curious what happened to those train cars. I kind of remember that first Christmas, the tain cars and the shiny red and silver locomotive. We set up a small loop on the carpet and I got to play with the train for a little while. I remember I used to just look at that thing and think it was so neat looking. It said “Santa Fe” on the side.
I told my wife that story once and that was the one she remarked as “the saddest story, ever”. My next birthday she bought me a train set. Once we have space for it, I’m totally setting that thing up. I don’t even care if there aren’t any little houses or terrain.
Maybe this summer I’ll get a slip ‘n slide.