Pebbles from Memory Mountain

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Rick Ryckeley

Memories are little pebbles. Over time, those pebbled memories come together, building a mighty mountain. For many people, there are pebbles hidden deep within this Memory Mountain that are long forgotten. Forever buried, they’re never visible on the surface again. That is until something, or someone, chips away digging out a small disremembered pebble.

Such was the case yesterday for Yours Truly. And wielding that stone pick was none other than our left-handed, blue-eyed, redhead Sweet Caroline. Dug out from my Memory Mountain, a pebble from the past tumbled down its side, eventually rolling into the here and now rested at my feet. Reaching down, I picked up that little pebble, smiled, and this story was born.

At that moment, lines from my childhood were right in front of me, so real and so close I actually reached out to touch them. A tradition started that very first day we moved into the house at 110 Flamingo Street and continued on the same day each year for the next seven until we suddenly moved away.

It had taken over a year, but the house Dad built with his own two hands was completely finished except for one door frame.

During the building process, he had measured everything: lumber, sheetrock, carpet, and paneling. Even our furniture was measured so that when we moved in all would fit just right. The only things he couldn’t measure were us four boys and The Sister.

After the first dinner, Dad lined us kids up in front of the basement door. Being the youngest and smallest, he said I would be the one to go first. Opening the door, he had me lean against the doorframe; legs straight, hips, shoulders, head back and touching. After all, the measurement had to be precise.

With smells of the basement wafting up, he laid his construction pencil flat on the top of my head. After making a hash mark on the doorframe, he asked me to move aside. Etching the line darker, he wrote my name and the date next to it. One after another he did the same for all of us. With older Brother Richard being the oldest, he was the last. Five children, five lines on the basement doorframe. The tradition continued this way for the seven magical years we lived in that house.

On the anniversary of that seventh year, those five lines tragically turned into only four. Big Brother James was now the oldest. That disappearing line was the reason why we moved away from Flamingo Street forever, never to return.

Now, closing my eyes, I can actually still feel the hardness of that doorframe between my shoulder blades and smell the basement air wafting up. Involuntarily, I straighten. With a tug on my pants leg, the lines start to fade. Despite reaching out for them, they slowly disappear. But the memory of them stays, warming this old man on this cool November afternoon.

Sweet Caroline said excitedly, “Big Papa, look how tall I am!” Her and her older sister had drawn outlines of each other with sidewalk chalk on our driveway.

Smiling, I reply, “I have a better idea.” Guiding them both to our basement door, I ask them to stay put for a moment. Quickly, I retrieve my construction pencil and ask Sweet Caroline to lean against the doorframe. Legs straight, hips, shoulders, head back and touching.

When her older sister protested why she should go first, I replied, “She is the youngest and smallest.” A hash mark was made, then etched in darker, and her name and date was added. The same was done for her older sister, and to their delight, Big Papa’s line, name and date was also added.

Each year on the same day, Little One, Sweet Caroline, and their Big Papa will go to the unfinished basement doorframe and make new marks. Just like my three brothers, The Sister, and I did a long, long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away.

It’s my hope, if you have young children at your house, that you will do the same. And perhaps they will do the same for their children.

And as they do, they will be adding a pebble to their own Memory Mountain that one day, instead of being lost, will roll into the here and now and warm the heart of the one remembering.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]