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Monday, January 4, 2010

Memories of Greener Days

When I was in the third grade, I had a green, short thermos. Wide-mouthed and plastic in that 70s avocado green that was so en vogue. The thermos was just large enough to accommodate one of the small cans of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, and for some reason, I was very aware that this thermos was lined with glass. I remember carrying it gingerly and worrying about it often. That I would drop the thermos and the glass would break. I remember that being a big concern of mine, although I was glad to have the soup for lunch. One day, at lunch on the blacktop, a boy grabbed my thermos. To my amazement, he threw it as far as he could across the playground. I remember being frozen, stunned. Shocked. It seemed that he had thrown that thermos incredibly far, and then he ran away. When I retrieved my short, wide-mouthed avocado green thermos from across the playground, it was leaking soup from its threaded matching cap and when I picked it up, I could sense the broken glass moving around inside the liquid. In my little 8-year old mind, it felt like a huge violation and a random, unexplicable act that frightened me.

Last year, reluctantly, I signed up for Facebook. To this day, I'm still not quite sure why I did. My sister, almost five years younger than me and more of a socially inclined person, encouraged me by saying things like, "You'll have so much fun finding your old school friends."

Which always made me laugh because we both knew darned well that I barely remembered anyone from any year of school, K through 12. And probably college, for that matter. With whom and why would I reconnect? Even my mom would ask me periodically, after some mother of a former classmate said, "Tell Julie so-and-so said hello!" and I would draw a total blank. My mom would say, "Do you remember going to school at all?" And we would laugh but it was pretty strange. I can remember my teachers, what we learned, what the classrooms looked like, but I'm hard-pressed to remember any given child besides their name. What I also discovered was how much I didn't remember about myself, which was a little more disconcerting.


A few weeks ago, I looked at the people on Facebook who were in my high school. There were a couple of girlfriends there, girls I remember hanging out with after school, getting pizza and sodas with. They're married, they have kids now. They politely said hello when I sent messages to them. I complimented them on their families.

There was the usual assortment of pretty girls I never spoke to, cheerleaders that annoyed me, and the boys especially that made me draw my accustomed mental blank slate. A few of the dorky ones seemed vaguely familiar.

And then I saw that boy. The Thermos Boy. I sent him a funny note, something like:

Hey, you probably don't remember me but in third grade, you broke my soup thermos and I thought I should let you know. Happy Holidays!

I didn't expect a reply. I guess I didn't expect him to remember me. Expecting that most people wouldn't remember me just like I didn't really remember them. I was just happy to have something to recall. I don't know what I would have written to anyone else (Hey, we went to school together but I don't remember shit about you isn't worth writing.)

But I was wrong. This person did remember me, with much kindness. In fact, he remembered me quite well and throughout our most of our school years. He recounted teachers and kids that were lingering in the back of my mind, dusted off and dimly seen again for the first time in years. It was charming, a sweet novelty. He also apologized about the Thermos.

It was so intriguing seeing myself through someone else's eyes, someone who I barely knew but who seemed to know the-me-that-was quite well.


He lives in another state now, has a little boy himself. He mentioned that he would be visiting the Bay Area for Christmas, and I suggested that they come up for a visit, and I would take their photos together as a present. I was curious to see what we would talk about. I wanted more of my memories.

We had a lovely visit. His son is a warmly engaging and friendly boy, who walks up to everyone he sees and says Hi! and grabs your index finger in a tiny handshake. The child also walks around saying Hey, you! Look at this! and points to all kinds of things he finds of interest.

And all through that, like dictation, came little snippets of my life, not from me, but from this man who was somehow still a boy, too. We walked around the Conservatory of Flowers, a fin-de-siecle confection of a building, humid like the tropics and full of mist and broad green leaves. In this greenhouse, the pale winter light was colored as it passed through the old stained glass, shining brightly blues, reds, greens, violets on us as we looked at the fecundity of the jungle.

I felt like I had been given a gift. The gift of myself as a girl remembered, green and vibrant like a little precious terrarium and I could peer inside of it, and see the tiny girl's world that lived inside. The green, new and tender world of life before sex: before the body is changed, broken, before the heart has expectations too big to realize, before the mind grows up and thinks it knows everything.

And no more of the memory of the broken thermos, with those sharp shards floating inside.


Greg January 4, 2010 at 1:50 AM  

I've grown to truly loathe Facebook as a necessary evil if you're in marketing, but I really dislike the site and how it operates.

however, when I first signed on, I had more than one "hey I remember you" moments from people I too, didn't remember particularly well, who would tell me about the time I (pulled a prank in school, wrote something in the paper, whatever) and how funny it was. That was kinda cool and why FB was popular and fun once upon a time.

Nowadays I get "friended" by politicians I don't know who apparently have me on some "list" or something, and they always ask me for money for some deadline. Watch how fast I pass the hat for these folks...that and all those people who want me to join in some game I don't have time to play.

AphotoAday January 4, 2010 at 5:07 AM  

Well, you've truly outdone yourself with this story, Julie... And you are WAY too kind to fully accept the apology of the "Thermos Boy" -- it was a purely evil act and I know how you must have felt... Must have been one of those moments when you realized that life wasn't going to be a fair proposition...

Being a kid isn't easy -- not only did you have the indignity of getting your Thermos hurled and broken, but then you must have had the additional problem of explaining it to your mother -- I'm sure you had been warned...

So Julie, remember -- next time someone does something unfair to you (((on the playground or off))) let me know and I'll go punch 'em in the stomach...

Just Jules January 4, 2010 at 7:18 AM  

oh Facebook - a double edged sword. so much good and bad mixed together :)

shabby girl January 4, 2010 at 7:40 AM  

A fantastic story! He probably threw your thermos because he liked you. :)

Marilyn Miller January 4, 2010 at 8:47 AM  

I agree with shabby girl, I thought he must have liked you too. What a special story to remember and then to reconnect and be reminded of your childhood.

Facebook for me has been mostly good. It is a place I know I can keep connected to those I want to be connected to even if we don't say much to each other there I know they are there. Then I also know I can unconnect if I need to. Like I find out they really are a jerk and I was just reminded of that.

Louis Duke Photography January 4, 2010 at 9:18 AM  

Love this. Great post. Great story.

An Open Heart January 4, 2010 at 9:56 AM  

Lovely post with gorgeous writing.


J9 January 4, 2010 at 10:52 AM  

Like you, I sometimes have a very tough time remembering people from school, even though I live less than 10 miles from any of the schools I attended as a child - and there are plenty of people still living here that I did go to school with.

RNSANE January 4, 2010 at 11:00 AM  

This was a beautiful story, Julie! I keep wondering what you did for lunch that day, with glass in your chicken noodle soup? But, of course, I'm always thinking about food. But isn't it nice that, because of facebook, you did reconnect with this man and renew a friendship. That's what I like about facebook. It's helped me stay connected..a quick communication with folks I do care about but really don't have much time to correspond with in long communiques. Many of my friends are crew members on cruise ships who work about 16 hours a day so this medium suits them well to stay in touch.

Cartooncharacter January 4, 2010 at 1:36 PM  

Such a beautiful post and what a wonderful picture to match it. I will once again mention how much I'm looking forward to the day your work is published, not just on a computer, but in a beautiful, hardbound book.

Sorry I am not able to help with the Diaper Project. Things have gotten even tighter for me lately, but I have high hopes for a looser, better future.

LoisW January 4, 2010 at 2:51 PM  

This is a beautiful post. I've enjoyed floating around in your memories. I, too, signed up for Facebook and am thinking now, it takes up too much time. I have become addicted to several games! Grrrrr! It has been fun to reconnect with many, but now I feel the need to go in a different direction... There is a season, turn, turn, turn....

Dina January 4, 2010 at 8:10 PM  

Now see... I have to go downstair to check the Campbell's Soup thermos I got my daughter at the beginning of the year. (It's weird how your memory jogged my memory regarding the trepidation about the glass in those things.)

This is what I love about your blog, Julie. You help us to remember.

Mari January 4, 2010 at 8:18 PM  

Beautiful, Julie, thank you!

Relyn Lawson January 4, 2010 at 10:16 PM  

I've been so busy doing nothing much that I haven't been around to visit my friends in too long. So, though my wishes are late, I mean them with my whole heart. May your year be filled with laughter. May all your surprises be happy ones. May you remember to count your blessings. May you know each day how very much you are loved. Happy new year, my friend.

glnroz January 8, 2010 at 12:02 PM  

the "veiw" from this post was much more than a broken thermos and Facebook. Something more,,?,, brighter, maybe..

Relyn Lawson January 9, 2010 at 9:22 AM  

Julie, I've been thinking of this post off and on for days. Thinking of lost memories and my own lost pieces of self. Thinking...

So, thank you.

affinity January 9, 2010 at 6:37 PM  

Congratulations on receiving such a lovely gift, and receiving it so beautifully and telling us about it so beautifully.

Teri and her Stylish Cats ~ Coco the Couture Cat, FurryDance Brighton, and Disco NoFurNo January 10, 2010 at 12:54 PM  

I remember those days, those thermos' and how precious things were, like my box of rocks with My Rocks written in a tentative cursive on the lid.

Thank you for sharing this.

Brenda Susan January 10, 2010 at 4:27 PM  

What a lovely story, thank you for sharing it with us. I too, resisted Facebook but then it became a wonderful place to reconnect with cousins of my childhood & the shared memories began to pour from all 5 of us! Very fun!

I still think he owes you a new thermos though!