Childhood Revisited

This is an entry in WordPress’ daily prompt. Today’s prompt is Childhood Revisited

What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.

Nana’s kitchen is a long and wide room that takes up most of her Cape Cod house in Midland Park. The stove, sink, and cabinets, are at one end and the rest of the room is filled with a long table that seats five on either side and two at each end. At the end of the room opposite the stove and sink is a black & white television and a radio. Neither are turned on right now, which is unusual.

Nana and “Nana’s Daddy” are babysitting me. It’s probably a school holiday and my mother couldn’t get the day off from work. My grandfather is called “Nana’s Daddy” because one of my older cousins referred to him as that and the name stuck.

Nana is working in the kitchen. This is how I remember Nana: in motion, in her kitchen. That table that seats twelve — Nana’s Table: it had a name — is a central meeting place for our extended family, but I am hard pressed to call up an image of her sitting at it.

I’m seated at the table with a can of Penguin soda (cream, of course) and a piece of Nana’s Linzertorte. Her Linzertorte, which truly deserves the German convention of capitalizing the first letter of all nouns, will never ever be replaced in my heart. I never finished an entire can of soda when I was that young, but I always finished the Linzertorte and usually went back for seconds.

Nana’s Daddy is seated across the table from me. He has tears in his eyes.

He’s talking to a very friendly and polite man, who is seated next to me. They are talking about when my grandfather served in the German Army in World War I. When I am older I’ll learn that he is Martin Middlebrook and he is interviewing my grandfather for a book.

I’m already old enough to be fascinated with guns and soldiers and jeeps like most boys that were my age in the late sixties. I have a G.I. Joe, a battery powered model of P.T. 109, and at least a few of my prized matchboxes are military vehicles. I don’t really understand the difference between World Wars I and II yet, let alone Korea or Vietnam – which is just starting to show up on the evening news. My mother usually turns or changes the channel when it does. (Another early memory is news coverage of a helicopter rescue in Vietnam, and being upset when my mother turns it off.)

I am listening and waiting for the part about the kinds of guns they had, but instead Nana’s Daddy seems more and more upset. I get up to go play because I feel uncomfortable, and because I am a six-year-old with the attention span of a six-year-old.

My Nana’s house is the setting for many good memories from my childhood. When I think of “family” the memory of Nana’s house comes with it. This particular experiences stands out because it is not completely happy.

It also stuck with me because of what I learned later. My grandfather survived the Battle of the Somme. Most of his regiment fell on July 1, 1916, after 7 days of sustained artillery fire and a final attack by British troops that morning. My grandfather was able to lead a small number of men to safety because he was responsible for the telephones lines between the trenches and the artillery batteries behind them and knew the way out. I’ve learned a lot about World War I and the horrors of the trenches since then.

Two months earlier his older brother fell at the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium.

The grandfather I knew was a happy man who was surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He always had a smile and a silly joke ready for us. This memory is a window into his rather more complex past.

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