Thursday, May 31, 2012

Somewhere Below the Stairs

I’m sure a family of Borrowers lives in my house. (For those who were deprived in childhood of an acquaintance with these little people who “borrow” things like stray buttons, pins, thread and socks, they are the stars of The Borrowers by Mary Norton, first published 1952.)

I now have an impressive wardrobe of earrings without mates. “It must be somewhere” is my affirmation while looking for missing stuff. Or: “It couldn’t just disappear into thin air.” But apparently it could.

Several years ago when I had nothing better to do, I filled a large garbage bag with divorced socks, as I called them. I told my own mate and our three teenage children to sort through the whole bag, claim what they recognized, and try to find socks that matched the ones they had claimed. This didn’t work. Eventually, just before a move, I threw out the whole bag. I didn’t want to haul useless stuff from one house to another, where more things would undoubtedly go missing.

My brain is much like my house. Names are often impossible to locate, even when I see someone I’m sure I met somewhere. (The name usually comes to me, sooner or later, usually after the person has walked away.) More disturbingly, I don’t always remember contexts soon enough. For instance, any attractive man of my acquaintance is likely to be gay, but not always. The guy might be bi, which is why I met him through mutual friends at the gay bar, but now he is strolling through the park with his wife or live-in girlfriend. Or his sister, who is either a sports-loving lesbian or a pillar of the Anglican Church. Before I remember or ferret out a few personal details, my conversation had best be as vague as a weather report.

As a teenager, I studied Spanish in Junior High School in the U.S., and French in a collegiate (academic high school) in Canada. As a result, I’m sure I stored some vocabulary lists in the back of my brain, where they could be retrieved later if I had the right password. (Flipping through a dictionary or phrasebook works much better.)

In 1989, I was temporarily alone in the home of my new girlfriend, a Latina, when her phone rang. I hesitated to answer, but thinking it might be important and I could take a message, I said “Hello,” only to be answered by a startled male voice saying “Hola! Quien es?” or some such.

I had been tidying up my girlfriend’s messy front room, and a word from high-school Spanish class bounced into my consciousness. “La criada,” I was tempted to say. The maid. Ha. Was I bilingual, or what? But I didn’t say it. I identified myself as “la amiga de Mirtha.” I later figured out that “companera” would have been a better fit.

Historical fiction appeals to me (as a reader and a writer), but of course, I can only write it at my own risk. Even the dates of historical changes that happened in my lifetime can elude me until I look them up. Exactly when in the 1960s did school segregation end in the U.S.? Telephones and televisions existed throughout my life, but when did direct-dialling (without the intervention of an operator) become widespread? When did TVs stop requiring tubes?

Much eludes me, including the significance of conversations among my students or their peers (18-22-year-olds). As I’ve learned, though, non-tangible items seem easier to find than lost safety pins or the little clear plastic clips that go on the hooks of earrings for pierced ears. What currently escapes my grasp is likely to pop up when I least expect it.


  1. I know all about those escaped socks. And run away earrings. And AWOL words.

  2. I swear non-native languages get stored together in the brain, because when I attempt to translate something into Spanish (only very simple, beginning Spanish phrases, that is), my hands automatically start signing ASL.

    In fact, I can't translate from English to Spanish WITHOUT signing. Hee.

    Orphan socks - oh grr. Don't get me started...

  3. Hi, Jean,

    I just chuck the odd earrings. I know their mates will never show up.

    I just pray that isn't true for all the names, dates and words I seem to have misplaced.

  4. I latched on to what you've said about your brain and your house. I know when I dream about a building, especially a house, this is a symbol of the the inside of my head, which may be neat or cluttered and sometimes haunted.


  5. Perhaps I'm the only one, but this post made me laugh out loud several times. :) Thanks for the charming and entertaining read!

    And Garce, yes, I think Jung postulated that theory, yes? I've often found my dreams set in the house in which I grew up, which I find interesting.

  6. Thanks for the comments, all. For some reason, I'm having trouble leaving my own comment.


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