I define nostalgia as memories that aren’t true.
I’m hit, often, with feelings of nostalgia. A sound. A smell. A word. Followed by an intense longing for something that used to be.
Of course, then, as I scratch my brain, searching for the specifics of the memory, I realise the nostalgia is what I wish were there, not what really is.
Webster defines nostalgia as homesickness or “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition”.
Memories that aren’t true.
When I think back on our years together, I know – I know because it’s true – that Eddie and I started to pull apart before I actually left.
But I prefer to think of the time before that.
“Y’all get out of here. Get out of this house now. Didn’t I already tell y’all to get outside? Didn’t I? God put sun in the sky and a breeze in the air and y’all children need to get y’allselves out of this house and outside.
“Do not make me tell y’all that again.”
Eddie and I were fighting over the television. He wanted to watch Godzilla; I wanted to watch Electric Company. I didn’t love Electric Company, but the reception was okay because it was on PBS. I hated Godzilla AND the reception was terrible AND I had to stand and hold the antennae because Eddie insisted that if I didn’t like Godzilla it shouldn’t matter that I had to watch it bent over while holding the antennae so we could partially make out the picture through the fuzz.
But. But. But. . . LuLu had indeed already told us once to go outside to play. It was sticky hot. Sticky, sticky hot. Sometime in July, I imagine. Mid-morning. I know that because the whole Electric Company/Godzilla cross-over happened every summer weekday around 10am.
Eddie and I looked at each other. We both knew it was true that LuLu did not like to repeat herself and she certainly did not like to say something a third time. We also both knew that the only acceptable response to “Do not make me tell y’all that again” Was “Yes, ma’am” and the sound of a closing door.
I turned off the TV. He raced and got our shoes.
We were careful to close the door very, very definitely, but very, very quietly behind us.
“What we gonna do now?” Eddie was not optimistic about our outdoor entertainment options.
Neither was I.
There was a grubby park in town, but to get there we had to walk on ‘Main Street’, but since the only thing Lee had going for it was that it was on the route to the Florida beaches, Main Street was actually a four lane semi-highway utilised primarily by big-wheel trucks and speedsters on their way from Birmingham or Montgomery to the beach. Their focus was on the white sands of the Emerald Coast, not on kids walking on the side of the sidewalkless road. Eddie and I were strictly forbidden from taking that route and we had both suffered tanned behinds for testing the rule.
My grandmother’s land had a lake, but this was the height of rattlesnake season and neither Eddie nor I even bothered to pretend to be brave on that front. Rattlesnakes had long ago won the battle of the lakefront.
“There’s a hurricane coming. We could go watch the cars heading back north.”
“Nah. Last time we did that I almost got hit in the head when that guy threw his drink cup out the window.”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry. I forgot about that.”
“We could cut across the back and go pet Miss Ross’s horses.”
“Dr Hughes said that if he saw me cut across his yard one more time he was gonna sic his dog on me. He’s a mean man too. I think he’d do it.”
“He is mean. I bet he probably would do it. He probably even told that woman who cleans his house to watch out for us so she’d do it too.”
We walked aimlessly toward the back of Judith’s house.
When Judith had been widowed the second time, she had inherited ‘quite a large house’ and ‘a bit of land’. She said it that way to make it look like she was old money and what she had would just do. In fact the house was very big and the land consisted of a few hundred acres. The truth was there was plenty of space for Eddie and me to occupy ourselves.
It was just so damn hot.
“Here, take this, to spread the grass.”
Eddie handed me a big stick. For knocking away the tall grass and for hitting stumps and logs and stuff. So the snakes would know we were coming and would leave us a alone.
We wandered. And argued.
Eddie and I were tight. We spent almost all of our non-school weekday time together. We could kind of sense what each other were thinking. So a lot of time we didn’t really talk much. And when we did talk, we often argued. About everything. And nothing.
Now we were arguing about nothing. Mostly to distract us from being so hot.
We came to the fence that separated Judith’s land from the land next door. I didn’t know who it belonged to. We never saw anyone back there. We never really went back there. But we hadn’t been forbidden from going there, so we weren’t breaking any rules when we decided to climb the fence.
I headed over.
“No! I should go first.”
“Because I’m the boy.”
“That’s stupid. And sexist.” I had just learned about the word sexist, I think. A new concept for me, but one I liked. “You can’t do something just because you’re a boy. And you can’t say I can’t do something because I’m a girl.”
“I’m not saying you can’t do it; I’m saying I should do it first.”
“Yeah but you said you should do it first because you’re a boy. That’s not a good enough reason. I’m going over.”
“I should go first because I’m older.”
This was Eddie’s favourite reason for doing anything, for making me do anything he didn’t want to do, for getting his way. That he was older. He was exactly seven days older than me. He was born on 31 August; I was born on 6 September. One week. But he reasoned he was born in August and I wasn’t born until September so there was a whole month difference.
I went over.
He came behind me. Mumbling something about my being an ‘uppity woman’. I’m pretty sure he hadn’t come up with phrase on his own and I was certain he wouldn’t have used that phrase in front of LuLu because she would have knocked him into next week, as she was wont to say.
We headed across the field. He was still steaming because I had won the battle of the fence climb, and I was feeling a bit emboldened. We were sort of surprised when we came back to our senses and realised we were standing in front of the public library.
“Should we go in?”
Eddie had no doubts: “I heard they got air-conditioning in there. I’m going in.”