Before the Neighborhood
Retrieving a childhood memory has always come easily. As a serious, creative and detail oriented child, I often viewed the world with a mind that was far beyond my years. Throughout my lifetime, many of my elders told me that I was born all grown up.
No cartoons for me! No fairy tales or comics, either. I had no interest in the world of make-believe. From my earliest days, my entertainment came from drawing, coloring, playing board games, and from stories about about things that were possible. I was so realistic in my thinking and so precise in the things I would imagine, that I had myself worrying about life’s “what ifs”, when I was as young as two and a half. Worrying even played a part in the earliest memory of my life.
Before we moved to Demarest Road in the neighborhood where I grew up, we lived in Queens, New York. My first couple of years were spent in a ground floor apartment with my parents and my older brother, Mark.
When the weather was warm, a unique truck would drive into the neighborhood. It was fire engine red with silver trim, and supplied the area with a happy, jingling type of music. It seemed to be a giant music box on wheels. The front looked like any other truck, but the back held a spectacular surprise.
On the flat-bed of the truck was a working merry-go-round. As it turned, it produced the joyful tones that could be heard for many blocks. Its colorful tent-like top was attached to long silver poles. Gliding up and down each pole was a grey, white or tan horse draped in a glitter flecked mane, and adorned in a blaze of flying ribbons. It brought a dazzling moment to the middle of an average day in the city.
The day I rode the merry-go-round, my mother held my hand and walked me to the truck. As we got close, the door folded open, like and accordion, revealing a ragged looking driver. “Welcome aboard”, he smiled; his parted lips exposing black spaces where teeth should have been. I shuddered and moved closer to my mother. She bent to help me up the steps and the driver stood up and told us to follow him.
Nervous, but curious, I squeezed my mother’s hand and walked a bit behind her through dark and narrow hallway to the majestic, gleaming horses. There, she told me to choose my favorite. Overwhelmed by their size and the fact that some of them were high off the ground, I picked the one that was closest to us. It was white, with a pink mane and a shiny gold saddle.
The man lifted me onto the horse, strapped a thin, worn out leather belt around my waist and handed me the reins. My mother gave him some money and, immediately disappeared back through the hallway. Panic welled in my chest as she left my sight. I twisted in every direction trying to find her. The ride jerked into motion, nearly throwing me off the horse. I grabbed its head for balance, while magical music flew into the air. Rhythmically, I was carried up and down and around in a circle, my eyes darting everywhere; frantically searching for my mother. Finally, I found her, standing on the sidewalk, smiling and clapping for me: waving and having fun. I waved back, and felt assured that she would stay there.
For a moment, I allowed myself to love the wind in my face, the song in my ears and the glorious dressed up horses all around. However, it did occur to me to worry about something else. I thought, “What if the driver forgets I’m here and drives away with me?”