I recently got into a discussion with our daughters about their memories. At this stage of my own life, I want to know what “took,” and I thought I did.
Certainly, our family trip to California wrapped in memories of Big Sur and Hearst Castle and Fisherman’s Wharf, where they devoured seafood and loved the warehouses-turned-shopping complexes.
Absolutely, their individual bat mitzvahs, so long anticipated, so earmarked with metaphoric neon letters spelling out “Milestone.” And surely, other big family events — anniversaries, birthdays, the weddings they were taken to as tykes, and then their own.
Surprise, surprise! While those were mentioned late and briefly, our daughters hearkened back to the things we never could have imagined, the tiny, unremarkable snippets of family life that we thought had gone unnoticed.
All three daughters talked about the kitchen floor. Yes, the kitchen floor.
In the house in which they grew up, that floor was terracotta, which hid a multitude of sins. It was somewhat bumpy, and not the most comfortable surface in the world. But it was on that floor that we would plop down after dinner on those nights when nobody had to rush out. Amy would lean against the pantry closet door, Jill would sit propped up against the dishwasher, and Nancy would often sit with her legs folded under her right in the middle.
I can’t explain why so many secrets spilled out, so many inhibitions came undone on the kitchen floor. But they did. We talked endlessly. We laughed uproariously about nothing.
It’s been years since our last kitchen floor “party.” But as my daughters remembered that scene, so did I — with such longing and nostalgia that it almost made me weep. Kids DO inhale the spirit of family life when you least expect it. They DO store away the trifles you thought they’d forget.
I love knowing how our kids processed their childhoods and those tumultuous adolescent years. I love hearing about those trifles that are remembered in the clutter of images we bring to adulthood. And more and more, I need those touchstones to our daughters as the years slip away on both sides.
Who would have guessed it — they even had loving remembrances of the “Beep Game” that they played on our old green sofa with their dad. No matter how tired he was, my husband would gather up his “little women” on weekends, and quiz them on everything from current events to the most trivial of trivia. If they got the right answer, he would announce the winner with a blast from an antique automobile horn we’d found at a flea market. Thus the “Beep” game.
No complex video games or computer graphics. Just a dad and his three daughters. And oh, how they remember.
Shopping trips that seemed inconsequential turned out not to be. Jill recalled the monumental purchase of her college trunk, the one that she stuffed with all her earthly belongings one late August night when we all watched wordlessly, wondering how in the world we’d ever get used to her green and white bedroom at the top of the stairs…empty.
I finally understand that the tapestry of family is humble, not grand. It’s a patchwork quilt, not a silk bedspread. And its intricate beauty may just lie in its simplicity. I’m glad our daughters remember how we would make up songs on rainy days. I’m thrilled that they haven’t forgotten sledding down our town’s best hill, or chasing fireflies, and one another, on summer nights.
Like so many of the best things in life, I wish we’d had more of those silly, spontaneous moments. I wish I’d spent more hours on the kitchen floor as our daughters metamorphosed from girls to women…overnight.
But for now, I’ll settle for their memories of the way we were. They are a different kind of family album, these memories. And they were taken by the best camera of all.
My daughters’ hearts. ••