Childhood Abroad (Not) — October Memoir Challenge
The theme for the final week of the October Memoir Challenge is Gratitude and Regrets. I’m big on gratitude — an under-sung cure for every bad mood. Regrets, not so much. The word regret always gets me humming the Frank Sinatra song, “My Way.”
Regrets, I’ve had a few,
But, then again, too few to mention.
Lately, though, I’ve begun to appreciate some meanings of regret, the ones about possibilities denied. For example, I regret that my mother didn’t live long enough to experience LOLcats. She would have loved LOLcats. So, I think this week I’m going to write about regrets related to roads not traveled and gratitude for what I got instead.
A Road Not Traveled — Childhood Abroad
My post about Shallow Roots last week sparked conversation on my blog, on Facebook, and on the phone with my brother, Dale. He reported a talk he’d had with Mother once that revealed that not only had she wanted and expected to move a lot during our childhood, she had hoped to be transferred to a location abroad for awhile. He remembered seeing photos from a company family who lived in Belgium.
I’m trying to imagine, now, what my life would have been like had we lived in Belgium when I was young. Here are some possibilities:
- I would speak more than one language
- I would have childhood photos and memories from all over Europe
- I would have developed a deeper appreciation for art
- I would have a better understanding of Western Civilization
- I would have traveled more frequently and farther afield all of my life
The Road Taken — a Solid Midwestern Upbringing
As cool as travel abroad in childhood would have been, I am grateful for the quintessentially American experiences in my growing up years.
We spent part of every summer at my grandparents’ farms in Indiana, with adventures that included ponies, fishing, and eating roastin’ ears (corn on the cob).
I’m grateful for the excitement I felt surrounding school dances. The back of the following photo says, in my handwriting:
First Dance: Fri., Dec. 20
Hair is in middle of back
(I danced with 2 boys)
Interesting that I thought the date was important, but not the year. I think this was 8th grade. The hair length would have referred to when it was sopping wet and pulled straight with my fingers. In this photo, I’m wearing pigtails that graze my shoulders. It’s unclear whether I was more excited about the length of my hair or who I danced with.
And, I’m grateful for the ways that I could stretch myself, with a variety of experiences, in a small town. Here I am (farthest to the left) in the High School musical.
What alternative childhoods can you imagine?
I grew up abroad, my Dad was in the service and my mum is English. For me it was a wonderful experience, but the best part was really the fact that by living in Germany, we were close to all my maternal relatives. I was able to spend all my school holidays with them and develop that family connection that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I think growing up with a connection to family is what is important, not so much the location.
I always love reading your pieces, Joy. We share a time and geography together. A bit of an overlap of personal history, although I believe I’m a tad older.
And of course, the time and place you blog about is a Central Eastern Missouri circa 1960s and 1970s. I grew up with three “homes.” After an early childhood in Southernmost Illinois that was punctuated by visits to Grafton (a mere stone’s throw across the Mississippi from your world), I attended 1-12 grade in the “boonies” of suburban Chicago. My weekends were made up of car trips to “visit” with relations back in Southernmost or Central Illinois. My vacations were mostly spent in Hawaii which became as familiar a place to me as any of the other two.
But interspersed, I also traveled abroad. My first trip was to the Cayman Islands back in the mid 60s. France and London followed a few years later. There aren’t too many longitudes I haven’t covered. And those are on my short to-do list.
What I brought with me when I traveled was as important as what I experienced and brought home. That solid Midwest grounding helps to see the world in the everyday things that make life so meaningful.
I never went somewhere with the attitude I was conquering a piece of coveted social real estate (saying I’d been somewhere cool) or acquiring the social proof of a passport stamp. I went to meet real people in their real lives. And that is the best sort of adventure whether you are exploring the caves of Lascaux or Hannibal.
Got to catch up on all of your Jane Ann posts! I really enjoy them.
I love this! First, imagining how your life would have turned out had you moved to Europe … fascinating. Second, appreciating the life you had. I also am grateful for the quintessential American childhood I had, with all the simple pleasures that people our age reminisce about now.
I can picture you in Belgium, in the medieval libraries and the museums. You would have thrived there as you did in your American home. The You that is Joy would have been just as curious there as it was where you were. You would have read a wider variety of books perhaps? Maybe. Maybe not!
For me, growing up with Hungarian grandparents, I was part of an old world culture, like a first generation immigrant child in many ways, yet visiting my siblings and mom in Montreal I had my other foot in the bright lights big city scene. I preferred that btw. We almost moved to the Isle of Man with my SO’s company 2.5 years ago. I was deeply disappointed not to go there but to end up here in the Toronto suburbs.
Roads taken and not taken. I imagine that you would have stretched yourself creatively where ever you lived. It’s not too late to learn a second language–good for the dendrites, you know? I love the photos that accompany your musings, too.
Like you, Joy, I really have few regrets. I had to search hard for yesterday’s, and though I regret it, I also was thinking of all the things I DID do instead of writing – like focus on my children and enjoy their childhood thoroughly, and get elected for 2 terms in municiple politics, and get involved in a number of charities, and teach at college.
So yes, “too few to mention” for me, too.
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Alternate childhoods? I could imagine a world in which my mother wasn’t sick. I don’t actually remember her being sick, but I know it impacted me and our family. My twin sisters would have been a handful for a healthy woman, and for several months, my mother had three children under age three. I grew up more quickly because of her health problems, but being responsible is a great trait to develop early, and I’m glad I had that chance.
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