Friday, March 25, 2011

A Childhood Memoir - Part I

Part I
When I was a little girl, my dad had a job that often took him to Washington, D.C. for weeks at a time. There were only four kids in our family at that time, and so, in the fall of my ninth year, my dad took the whole family with him on a three week business trip. We were home-schooled, and so my parents saw it as a wonderful opportunity for us to experience the museums and historical sites of the D.C. area.

We stayed in a tall hotel and took long walks to the library and the park. I remember the park quite well, or at least, I remember the swings. They were not baby swings, but big, rubber-seated, chain-linked swings over a vast pit of wood chips. My sister and I would compete in our very own invention, the Swing-Jump Olympics. We would swing as high as we could, until the seat dropped out from under us and our stomachs dropped, too. And as we flew forward and rocketed toward the sky, we would leap from the swings and land in the wood chips.

But the point of the Swing-Jump Olympics was not just the leap. They were a magical combination of gymnastics, ice-dance, and danger. We were judged on height, form, distance, and, most especially, landing. It took what felt like hours of practice to perfect the elusive "Swan" landing, with one leg out behind your head and your arms gracefully straight out from your sides. The "Twister" was also a popular and difficult move. As you leapt from the highest heights of your forward arc, you would twist your body quickly to complete a full body spin in the air before landing gracefully with your arms crossed.

I won't say how many sprained ankles and scraped knees resulted from these athletic exertions. All true athletes suffer great injuries for the sake of their sport. In fact, scars and damage were a badge of honor to all great Swing-Jumpers. The larger the scraped knee, or the more dramatically you limped on the way back to the hotel, the more dedicated you were to this, the true American pastime.

Of course, the entire trip was not composed of these fabulous trips to the park. We had to actually learn something. And so we were dragged, willing or not, to every Smithsonian museum, our little feet aching and our little voices whining loudly. We did not care for the Air and Space Museum, as I recall. My poor dad, an Aerospace Engineer, was quite disappointed in our disinterest in all things that fly. We could fly higher than any rocket when we leapt from our swings. How the aerodynamics worked was beyond our comprehension and our interest.

I think I enjoyed the Museum of Natural History the most of all the Smithsonian’s. I loved, and still do, the giant elephant in the lobby. Stuffed animals were fascinating. American History was not. That is, until we took a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. There, everyone seemed to have their priorities straight. Men, women, and children alike were committed to a fascinating game of dress-up and "old-fashioned times," which happened to be one of my favorite games as well. I loved the beautiful bonnets and three-cornered hats and muskets and soap-making. All things old-fashioned were a delight to me.

Williamsburg is approximately a three hour drive from Washington, D.C. That's a long drive to make as a small child, smashed between your brother and sister in the back seat. But along the way, I discovered a fascinating detail about our rental car. Rental cars are one of the very best parts of any vacation. They are always newer than any car I had owned (or have yet to own), and they always have all kind of interesting buttons and pockets and vents. The sedan my parents had rented was silver, I think, and smelled very nice. The leather seats were squeaky, and in between two of the back seats I discovered a very interesting little tab. I pulled and pulled on the tab, and eventually my seat came forward, revealing a fascinating place: the trunk.

In an instant, I had sneakily removed my seatbelt. I carefully and silently squeezed my skinny little body through the crack as I pulled the seat forward. I shushed my little brother when he complained that pulling the seat down on top of him was squishing him, and hurriedly hid myself away in the trunk. My brother leaned back, the seat snapped back into position, and I was alone in a small, dark cave of warmth and solitude. It was very interesting for a few minutes, and I pushed the stroller off to one side to explore the dark little room with my fingers. But eventually I grew a little bored, and in the dark rocking cocoon, with my head pillowed on my arms, I went to sleep.

I awakened to the sound of loud voices arguing. It was my parents. I lay still, foggily listening, until the words began to actually sink into my consciousness.

"Dan! Where is she!" my mom demanded of my dad.

"How should I know? I told you, she was in the back seat when we left! Wasn't she?" my poor dad did not need to be responsible for losing his own namesake.

I suddenly realized they were looking for me. I began to call their names and kick the roof of the now hot and cramped prison.

"I'm right here! I'm in the trunk! Let me out!!" I cried, scared by the fear and anger I had heard in my parent’s voices.

A slightly sweaty and wilted butterfly, I was released from my cocoon with carpet-burn on my tear-streaked cheek. My parents were so grateful to find me that they didn't spank and barely scolded me. And I, in my relief to be back with my loving family, gave my solemn vow to never climb into the trunk of any car, ever again. And, to this day, I have kept that promise. 

(drawing and text via me)


  1. I miss the Swing-Jump Olympics! We were so awesome...

    Haha I'd forgotten the part about your climbing into the trunk and getting "lost." Our poor's amazing THEY survived our childhood. We came out just fine. After all, scars are badges of honor and dedication, right? ;-)

  2. Hahahaha!!! Great post, Daniella! I love the Swing-Jump Olympics, and the trunk story is hilarious! lol
    I am looking forward to part 2!

  3. You're great. I love you. I wish we hadn't refused to be friends when we were kids... Also, I think I'd be quite happy to live in Colonial Williamsburg and play dress-up every day. That'd be the life :)

  4. Boy, did you ever make me laugh! Tears came to my eyes! I can just envision Dan and Jayne arguing over where in the world you could be! That's hilarious!