Christmas 1974

1974 appears to be the dividing line between the recognizable and the void in my life. The earliest memory I can attach a date to is Bobby’s birthday in October, and there are memories which must be earlier, like the tail-end of toilet-training, which, going by the averages, would mean spring or summer of that year. There are even ones which seem to predate my ability to talk because they seem oddly silent and closed-in, devoid of any sense of verbal action or thought, but I just don’t know. This Christmas is the first one I can remember. The photos I’ve posted so far are, at best, a bloom of frayed connections between then and now: they show toys I know I played with but probably played with for years, recognizable traditions that were also undertaken at other Christmases, etc. They offer tantalizing maybes. This one has tantalizing yeses. I’m pleased my dad took this photo, because he just as easily could’ve not captured this event; if you asked him that day what, if anything, I might take from this day thirty years down the line, it’d be the opening of the most expensive toy, or…I dunno. It just wouldn’t be this.’But it is this.

The internet tells me that what I’m holding in my hand is the circa-’74 edition of the Ohio Art “Busy Boy” Tool Box. It may or may not be the first toy I played with that day: here it looks like I’m just about to open the box for the first time while I’ve already taken the train off its track, yet in another photo, the train is neatly on its track and the tools are already all over the ground. (If I had the negative strips for those two it’d settle the matter as to which came first, but I’ve got all the negatives for this year’s Xmas photos except for those.) I could deduce from that I found immense pleasure just emptying and refilling the box again and again. This sounds about right because while I remember almost nothing else from this day, I remember playing with it, fixating on it, getting lost in the vinyl smell, which was like the smell of toys and toy stores; the taste of the tools (of course I was going to put them in my mouth) and their tactile profile on my tongue and lips, the saw and its ridges, and the zizzing sound they made going back and forth on my teeth; the blue exterior and and the lime green interior of the tin, the thin tubular hinges, and the intricate little Ohio Art logo on the back of the lid, which obviously had meaning but I wasn’t sure what…and then…and then…in a push-pull moment of consciousness, as if my mind had just received a gentle reboot, everything shifted from dreamy play to real life, and I became newly aware of what was going on around me.

How much of this memory is actually bullshit? I don’t really know. After I wrote the above, I thought it sounded almost like a purple fabulation based on the suggestions of photos I’d seem of the event years after the fact. I always remembered this memory, but I didn’t think about it much until I was able to connect it to this photograph, back when I first organized the family photo collection in 1995. Before then, for some reason I thought I was doing this everything — the teething, the smelling, the zizzing — behind or even to the right of the blue couch, which by the photos seems to be physically impossible. (Unless I was hiding under the side table…) I remember music was playing, but can’t think specifically what, and anyway I’m wondering if I think that only because my parents always played music on Xmas day, and maybe I only believe I chewed on the tools only because I always did that, too. On the one hand, I clearly remembered I was playing with an Ohio Art toy (maybe it stuck out in my mind thanks to a commercial, or exposure to an Etch-a-Sketch?) without any evidence of this fact being visible in the photos — as I said, there are yeses in the photo, but tantalizing yeses.

Likewise with the coming-down-the-stairs memories I mentioned in the last posts. I have two different memories, from two different times, of coming down the stairs and being shocked into exclaiming that it was Christmas. At two-and-a-half, I was a late talker, so these Christmases would have to be Xmas 1973 at the earliest, and — since Christmas 1976 was largely held in the den rather than the living room — 1975 at the latest, so it’s safe to assume these two instances happen in ’74 and ’75. But any examination of these memories renders them insubstantial. I cannot actually remember the difference I found between what was there the day before and what was there on Christmas; I cannot even remember if I realized it was Christmas by sensing there were differences, I may just be assuming that. Even the picture-image of coming-down-the-stairs has been corrupted, melting into countless other memories of being in that room. I do remember…or rather, I attached to this memory the notion that it was bright, even sunny outside. I don’t even remember that so much so much as the way light from the outside reflected back into the living room. Photos from these Christmases don’t really show a sunny day at all. I sort of see myself in the memory, in pajamas and throwing my hands up but of course I couldn’t see myself. Is that all these memories consist of, a few facts and a cast of supporting suppositions? It’s as if the little QuickTime videos in my head that once constituted The Memory of That Thing dried up, what were left were sentences and a few blocky jpgs. (A LOT LIKE THIS BLOG.) What I remember is a story that I told myself — when I talk about “this memory” certain images and phrases that have attached themselves to it, perhaps meaningfully, perhaps not.

The only other thing I remember is that this may have also been the Christmas Uncle John explained to me what Gouda cheese was.