Last week I went on a walk, and I felt practically lured into a creek. I first sat by it to enjoy the sun, think, pray, see what happened. The next thing I knew I was climbing around, busting up dams that had formed with winter’s leaves and branches, stepping on rocks, jumping around, and even feeling a little bit sorry for people rushing by in cars, not knowing that they too could stop and play (It’s really okay). And all at once, I was not only my actual age of 51; I was also 10 and back in Atlanta in Peachtree Creek where I regularly dammed up the creek and climbed into the big culverts under the road. And I was 30 and playing with my son in the creek in Kenwood here in D.C., pretending to be Maid Marian to his Robin Hood. I truly was all of those ages at once. Memories do that, don’t they?
I was eight years old, I think, when I talked my mother into buying me an Atlanta Braves jacket at Sears. It was navy blue, crisp duck cloth, covered in little felt patches and pendants. It zipped up the front, and it smelled like (of course) duck cloth, both clean and sour somehow.
I was caught shoplifting at the same store five years later. So great was my need of Love’s Baby Soft Powder that I added it to my cache of stolen items, already heavy on record albums (including my beloved Jethro Tull and Cat Stevens). That’s a story for another day… but when I look back on the Boys Department at Sears, I still feel my love of the Braves. That memory is not ruined by the misdemeanors that followed. So great was my love of the Braves that I had to have that jacket or I would die; having it made me feel very cool and very happy (for that day at least). It’s a good memory.
I went to only one Braves game as far as I know. And it was a powerful experience… the sites, sounds, smells of baseball. If I had to name one person who plays for the Braves (or, frankly, has since Hank Aaron), I couldn’t. But they are my team. And I loved that jacket.
Such is the power of childhood memories. I still love the Braves in an irrational sort of way, irrational because I do not follow them. At all. But they made me happy in about 1968, and they are, thus, mine. Forever. And somehow that makes me happy.
David Brooks wrote about this in an op-ed piece called Hey Mets; I Just Can’t Quit You, so it’s not just me. The only difference between me and David Brooks is that he gets paid to inspire you. He wrote, “The neuroscientists might say that, in 1969, I formed certain internal neural structures associated with the Mets, which are forever after pleasant to reactivate. We have a bias toward things that are familiar and especially to those things that were familiar when life was new: the old house, the old hometown, the people, smells and sounds we knew when we were young.”
What I’m advocating today is that you take the time to play in a way that you did when you were younger. Or go sniff your old Braves/Phillies/Astros/Mets jacket. Or have a Proustian moment with a madeleine or some other foodstuff from your faraway past. It’ll take you back, because the path is still there, the one where the memories first laid a track that took you to where you are now (and will go).
As the “Child is father to the Man” (or woman), we have a lot to learn (and enjoy) when we listen to those children who lure us into creeks, invite us to baseball stadiums, and send us in search of waterskiing opportunities.
Listen, listen, listen.