When I was four years old I got a Crayola coloring set for Christmas. 64 crayons and 12 markers and a 12 pack of chalk, in a little yellow suitcase with a black plastic handle, and special slots for every single piece to nestle perfectly into the two sides of the case. I was enchanted. The perfect, flat points and waxy smell of the crayons. The powdery feel of their labels. The juicy, sharp perfection of unused markers, and the joy of snapping the caps off and on. All those colors. The best part, my very favorite thing in the whole set, was the chartreuse crayon. I’d never seen anything that color before. I loved it so much that I wouldn’t put it down. I carried it around all day, and finally took it into the bathroom with me.
While I’m packing, I’ve been going through boxes of photo albums and letters. I came across this picture, and it made me think about a very early memory. I have a memory earlier than this one, but it’s so nebulous that it’s barely even an image. This one has some structure to it, at least. In the way of memories, it may not have happened exactly like this, but this is how it lives in my head.
I’m about two years old (a little younger than in this picture, I think). I’m on the riding mower with one of my parents, cutting the grass in the enormous yard of the house where we lived until I was four. It’s very bright and sunny, but we’re going along the edge of the yard where there are trees and there’s that kind of dappling light effect. The mower is loud, and I can smell cut grass and gasoline and that sharp smell of hot stone from pebbles that kick up and hit the blades. Whichever parent is driving the mower has one hand on the wheel and one arm around my middle with a hand on my belly. The yard is uneven, and it’s bouncy. We come up towards a tree with a low-hanging branch and it’s coming right toward my face. The hand around my waist comes up and underneath the branch and sweeps it up so that it passes over our heads, and then the arm goes back around my waist.