Flip Side

Jeffrey Schuster

I have one memory that's like a well-worn photograph. I've taken it out many times, a cherished memory. I consider it one of a handful of first memories -- the ones I've been able to hold onto.

In the first grade, at St. Francis Xavier grade school, we had a Christmas pageant. All of my classmates and I were invited to participate. We were told we could wear our pajamas and to bring our favorite stuffed animal. I wore very soft cotton pajamas and brought my tiger that I slept with every night.

I remember how we all sat on the bleachers in the gymnasium together and I remember the soft glow of light that filled the open room. A beautiful memory.

This summer, while back home on a visit, I mentioned this to Mom and Dad. We were sitting on the front porch. Dad was drinking decaf and I was drinking a cup of regular coffee. I couldn’t remember ever telling them about this little memory, so I though I’d see if they could remember it themselves. I kind of doubted it. They have eight children. How could they remember this one little incident, just another Friday night for them -- young, beleaguered parents.

My Dad listened to the story and then said, rubbing his chin, "Isn't that the time you got lost in that blizzard?"

"What?! What do you mean?"

"I'm pretty sure that was the time." He called through the screen door. Mom was in the kitchen. "Starla, when did Jeff get caught in that blizzard?"

Mom came to the door, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. "Oh, my God. We were so worried."

Dad went on to explain how at the end of the pageant there had been some mix-up about who was supposed to pick me up. Evidently, when I couldn't find either of my parents, I pushed through the gym doors and started walking home in my pajamas and holding my tiger.

The temperature was around zero and the blizzard was in full force. I must have known the general direction for home.

Back at the gymnasium Mom and Dad and all the other parents were frantically searching for me in the building. But I was nowhere to be found. Finally Mom and Dad put my two older sisters Aimee and Barb into the car and started driving around the surrounding streets. They had crossed the bridge, Dad said, when one of my sisters spotted me passing down a sidewalk behind a snowbank. They rushed me home and had to stick my hands in lukewarm water, hoping I wouldn't lose any fingers. I didn't.

I have absolutely no recollection of any of that. I had the strangest feeling sitting on the front porch, my father sitting on the swing, sipping on his coffee.

All those years I've had such good feelings about that evening and, all that time, what must have been a traumatic event was there on the flip side.

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