WHEN SHE WAS NINE AND I WAS TWELVE
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
This is the question posed to me last night by my small person. Questions and answers happen every bedtime, when we crawl in bed together to watch cat videos and make funny voices and funny faces. We talk in between and after about practical and abstract things.
Why did she ask? What was her own answer?
Back to Kentucky, first, she said. She loves Aunt DiAnn and loves driving that boat. To time travel properly, one must take short trips first, to recent times. Practice, to prevent getting lost too far in time and space from real home, is an important step.
A heartbreaker landed next. She’ll go back in time and move out of our last house before we had to leave. I knew what she meant. Before I could open discussion, the time travel continued. We might have had a moment to talk about the move and its causes, but she moved on.
She wants to ride scooters with her grandpa and me, because she is fond of the kind of freedom we had. I’ve told her the scooter tales, trips to almost-dry creekbeds to feed hungry carp and long tours of narrow roads made into tunnels by tall cornfields on both sides. She knows that her grandpa was as reckless as I was cautious, so she prefers to ride with me most of the time when she visits 1986.
Further into her imagined past, she shall meet other family members when they are younger and she is this age. She will always be the age she is now, of course.
Her great grandmother, my Gram, interests her. Stories of pie and good mashed potatoes and the warmest hugs must have stuck. Her great grandfather, Grandpa Chester (father of my father), also won a spot on the must-meet list. Anyone who can be grazed by a shot to the face and calmly walk to the other end of the bar to get his gun wins her approval.
My small person believes that her grandma was one sassy teenager, and the prettiest girl in the town. According to my own Gram’s anecdotes and photographic evidence, she’s right on both counts.
We, she and I, make a small family in a very big world. Her time-travel wishes make me glad that I’ve talked so much about the people who contribute to her genealogy. They have made her, and she knows them without ever meeting them.
Other people talk about the future as though it exists, but I do not know how to leave now. The past, made concrete by memories, can be revisited over and over. We ride the crest of a tide of nothing but memories, with empty space always ahead.
Do you know what will happen tomorrow, without a doubt? I know what happened today, and last week, and when I was twelve, and so does she.
I am glad to share my yesterdays with a small person and her big thoughts. She knows that we would be four years apart if she were to hop on the back of my scooter, and she knows the color of my hair at thirteen, and the sound of carp eating dry bread in a drought, and what corn smells like in August of 1986.
And I can’t wait to see what our tomorrow will bring.