Memory is wonderful, mysterious and sometimes completely unreliable. We start to remember things around two years of age but something called childhood amnesia makes recalling most of those memories impossible. The recorder may be running but there are Nixonian gaps in the tape.
My life, at least that which I can remember most clearly, starts around age five. I can recall the house in which we lived, the neighbors on either side of us and significant events like Gaynell Wright’s surprise birthday party or Anita Tillman giving me my first kiss. But anything before that is largely gone, save for a few unforgettable moments that emerge from the fog that remain because they were either traumatic (being scared witless by a loud motorcycle engine when I was two), or they touched my soul on a very deep level.
I’m almost four years old and we are going to watch the fireworks somewhere outside of town, away from the insistent glow of street lights. It’s very dark; the only thing I can see out the window are thousands of tiny, winking lights in the trees—fireflies whose numbers will dwindle in the coming decades. We stop by the side of the road, parking behind a long line of cars. He stops the engine and kills the lights, but leaves the radio on for amusement or just to pass the time until the fireworks begin.
Losing one sense often enhances another; I cannot see but I can hear and that makes all the difference. Three gentle electric guitar chords, followed by piano triplets reminiscent of “Chopsticks” but haunting, ethereal. Then a soft voice crooning:
My love must be a kind of blind love
I can’t see anyone but you…
But it’s the background refrain that stays with me forever.
I don’t remember the fireworks or the trip home, or anything else for the next year. But whenever I hear the Flamingos singing “I Only Have Eyes For You”, I remember brick streets and iron lampposts, the shadows of people from a small Midwestern town gathering by the cornfields and a sense of peace that would be lost for forty years.
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