Put your some of your early memories on a map. You could probably draw many maps, and probably will. How many houses have you lived in? How many neighborhoods do you know? Sketch a map of an early neighborhood you remember. Put significant landmarks on it: where you played, where your friends lived, where important and unimportant stuff happened.
Suggestion: You may be taking a deep dive into memory here. I suggest you give yourself 3-4 episodes of writing. Write for 15-20 minutes. Then stop and go about your business. You will probably continue thinking about your map, about what you remember. Next day, return to the task.
Note: You’re aiming for quantity, not quality. Don’t worry about “getting it right.” The important thing is “getting it.”
I. Start writing. Begin with this sentence: When I think about the place I grew up, what comes to mind is…
When I think about the place I grew up, what comes to mind is freedom. Freeland was a small town, a one-stoplight town. The principal streets were Main Street, which was also M-47, and Washington Street. Like most small towns, we also had a Church Street. Odd when I look back on it: there was no church on Church Street. These were the churches in town: Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, and Baptists. Half a mile out of town, on River Road, there was also a Seventh Day Adventist. There were also two bars, The Log Cabin and Rodeitchers. So maybe the moral order in town was tipped in the direction of the good. It seemed that way. What comes to mind is freedom. Long summer days my brother and I left the house at eight in the morning and came home for lunch. After lunch we left the house again and came back at dinner time.
II. Put some more places on the map. If you can, briefly describe some events, things that happened at some of these places. Use proper names–of places, people. Someone told me once, good writing begins with proper names. Hostess Twinkies, Mars Bars, for example.
Right across the street from our house, on the corner of Main and Rosier, was Pat’s Food Center. It was one of our town’s two markets. The other one was Al Roberts’ store, also on Main, near Washington. Pats was a full service grocery store. Summer days we would sit on the sidewalk outside the store and eat candy bars and drink pop. Danny Leman often bought with money he stole from his mother’s purse. We drank Royal Crown Cola in 16 ounce returnable bottles and we ate Mallow Cups, Payday bars, Mars Bars, Almond Joys, Twinkies, and Hostess Cupcakes. That was our junk food. A bottle of RC cost ten cents, with two cents added for the bottle deposit.
III. Sketch a map of the house you lived in. Put a few details on the map that will trigger additional memory of this time. Remember those proper nouns, the names of people, places, foods, songs, tv shows, movies.
I lived in Freeland, Michigan. My house was 280 S. Main, at zip code 49623. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember if zip codes were used yet when we lived in this house. (Find out. Do a Google Search. When did zip codes become part of the mail.). Our telephone number of Oxbow 59-111. In town, to make a call, you used only the five numbers. Dan Leman’s phone number was 59-303. Ron Fritz, 59-103. Jeff Schilling 54-623. For the longest time you said “OX” for Oxbow when giving your number. Eventually we switched over to saying 69-59111. To pick up main we went to the post office, over on Washington St. We had a box there. My dad was in business and received a lot of business-related mail.
IV: Pick out a few details on one of maps you’ve drawn, and describe how something changed over time. A person, a place, a situation. You might consider this section “mopping up.” Other details have come up in your mind as you’ve done the writing in the first three sessions. Include those details in section, even if they don’t seem to fit.
We lived at 280 S. Main until I was in seventh grade. My parents said, “If someone calls about the house, tell them it’s ten five.” That meant $10,500. The house sold, we moved into a new one, which my parents had built, outside of town a mile or so. From that time on “town kids” came into my vocabulary. In Freeland there were town kids and country kids. Just as later, around the time I was graduating from high school, we began to categorize kids: jocks, beer guys, car guys, dopers.
The old bridge is a fixture in my memory. I did a little investigative work. The bridge I grew up with was the second bridge over the Tittabawassee River. It was built in 1895. According to Public and Local Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan, the township borrowed $`12,000 to build it in 1895. On the catwalk, halfway across the river, you could be alone. The water flowing under the bridge made you reflective, even a little philosophical. I stood on the catwalk and talked to Dan Leman when one of his sisters was pregnant.