My earliest memories, my own memories and not mirages made up of the stories of my family, are set in Simi Valley, California. Simi Valley was once a set apart suburb of Los Angeles, a town that required driving a freeway that was surrounded by grassy hills to get into Hollywood where my father worked as an engineer for a tv station. Simi Valley was not only home to my family but also Big Sky Ranch where Laura, Mary and the Ingalls family filmed Little House on the Prairie, my favorite television show.
My early memories are full of kids. There was always someone to play with. Sometimes it was the neighbors, often it was one of the many foster kids that lived with our family over the years. Once my parents settled down in Simi Valley and my dad had his job in Hollywood, they began to take in foster kids. First one teenage girl. At some point a family of three kids. My parents taught us that God commands his people to take care of the widows and orphans. They took that teaching seriously and literally as they opened our home, our rooms, our lives to abused or neglected children who needed a safe place to live. I don't know how many kids my parents took care of over the years but I know it is too many for me to remember. A few names and faces stick in my mind. Philip and Molly, Stephen and Michael, James. It is sad that I don't remember more of them because when they were in our home they were my siblings.
In my preschool years, I felt like I had an idyllic childhood. We did things together as a family, as one big family. I remember drives to my Aunt and Uncle's house in northern California. I remember stopping at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco for ice cream on the long drive north. I remember camping in a tent in their yard one summer. Playing in tree houses and visiting the beach. I remember a free flowing of kids, animals and grown ups enjoying open summer days. I loved being with my cousins.
I have good memories of playing with my neighbor friend Tony, swimming in his pool and running on the grass in our front yards. Days were spent playing and being together. I think I was with Tony, running through the kitchen, when I fell down with a spoon in my mouth. Blood poured everywhere and I was rushed to the emergency room. Thankfully I was fine, no stitches needed, but I can still feel the dent in the top of my mouth with my tongue. You would think I would have learned my lesson but just yesterday I was walking around Costco with a spork in my mouth.
I also remember something really bad. I was four and I did not know what had happened but I was sent to my parents room where I sat on their bed waiting for someone to come tell me. It was evening and then night time. Eventually someone came to tell me my brother had been hit by a car. He was 8, I think. He and Philip were going somewhere together. That was back when you could let kids go to the corner market for an ice cream sandwich. My brother decided to run across the street and ended up in the hospital for almost two months with a broken leg, traction and eventually a body cast at home for a few months more. I remember visiting him in the hospital, my mom having to sneak me in because kids were not allowed to visit. Or maybe we just had missed visiting hours. More often I remember standing in the courtyard visiting him through his window. I adored my older brother and missed him dearly when he was away. He recovered and went on to be quite a successful high school soccer player and eventually a PE teacher so I guess his leg turned out just fine. He also is the main reason my boys are really good about not running into the street. Because whenever they get too comfortable around cars, I remind them of their Uncle who got hit by the car. Suddenly little boys are walking a little closer to mommy and checking a few extra times for cars.
One final memory I wanted to share because I was reminded of it this week when my father left a singing voicemail for my birthday. At our house, birthday cakes were always accompanied by candles and the singing of not one but two birthday songs. The first was the traditional "Happy Birthday to You" but the second was a unique family tradition. As soon as everyone finished the first song my family would break out with our own birthday dirge, a sadly sung deep voiced song.
Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday. Death, misery and despair. People dying everywhere. Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday.It is a disturbing song. My husband was not able to get on board with our family continuing the tradition once the kids were born. But for me, it brings a smile to my face every time I hear that song.