Slice of Life Story Challenge March 1 -Smoke, Mirrors and Memoirs
I am currently reading ‘When I Was Your Age- Original Stories About Growing Up.’ It features memoir pieces contributed by 20 prominent American writers about. The stories are indeed a reminder that the experiences one has during childhood are frequently more vivid and enduring. In childhood, it often seems, you are either very happy or very sad, but rarely ambivalent. Emotions are strongly represented in these recollections of youth. Memories of these of these events remain with us forever. Time and distance though frequently colours the accuracy of the recollection. The story becomes our particular version of the truth. This in part is due to the heightened emotional state evident in childhood.
Well, these stories stirred me into action. -A memoir slice, for the first day of this March writing challenge! I have gone back to when I was 9 years old. A memory that refuses to fade has resurfaced courtesy of my current readings. I have been visited today by a memory from a time when I made a big mistake. A mistake, I cannot outlive…
With a group of friends I set out one Saturday morning on my bike to explore the local neighbourhood. In the course of the morning’s adventures someone produced a packet of cigarettes and so ignited my tale of infamy. Because we were only 9 years old, and cigarette smoking was a forbidden act for children, we immediately sought the dark cover of the Elster Creek stormwater drain that ran between my suburb,
East Bentleigh and Carnegie, a neighbouring suburb. The drain
was huge. You could actually ride your bike through it when water levels were
low. We conducted our nefarious puffing activities out of sight, in the shadowy
underground of the tunnel. We were aware of doing shameful things.
I returned home around lunch time carrying my wicked secret. My father greeted me that afternoon and almost immediately looked at me with suspicion. Without hesitation he asked, ‘Have you been smoking? -A fairly simple, straightforward question. To which I answered without hesitation, ‘No.’
-A big fat lie to compound my shameful behaviour.
My father followed up with ‘Well, what happened to your eyebrows? They’re all singed and burnt’
‘I don’t know,’ was my inadequate response.
He smiled at me in that all knowing way parents do. ‘Are you sure you haven’t been smoking?
This time I hesitated before I offered the worst possible answer. ‘I wasn’t smoking Dad. I was only lighting them for everyone.’
Oh what a pathetic lie! But it was too late to take it back and I couldn’t ask for another try...
My Dad then gave me some stern words of advice on the dangers of smoking. A terrible addiction, he called it. I felt worse about the dumb lies I had told him. For me, that was a far bigger embarrassment than the smoking. The words came out so easily and once out, could never be taken back. Not much to be proud of, I thought.
I paid for those lies well into my adult years. My father would often recall those terrible words whenever he suspected that someone was not being exactly honest with the truth. He would recite the line ‘I wasn’t smoking Dad, I was only lighting them for everyone.’
It often arose when I was trying to explain something to his grandchildren and I would immediately recall how dishonesty brings you undone. Ironically, my father was a smoker for most of his adult life. I never took it up. I hate it, if you must know. They say we learn most from our biggest mistakes. The regret I feel for lying to my Dad has remained with me all these years.