Thursday, July 24, 2014

Back to the Future

by Giselle Renarde

If you follow my Donuts & Desires blog, you've probably gathered that I'm currently on vacation. In the woods. Away from the internet. So I'm writing this blog post in advance of my departure.

There's something a little odd about reflecting on nostalgia for a post that's going up in the future.

Never mind. I'm over it.

Seeing as I'm the Grip baby, I won't be shy about telling you that the first thing popping into my head right now is "Super Mario."  To me, Nostalgia is Super Mario.

I've never been coordinated enough for video games, but Super Mario Bros. still holds a warm place in my heart. Christmas of 1980-something, Santa brought us a "family gift--a present for everyone.  Yes, it was a Nintendo Entertainment System, complete with a Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt game cartridge. Our lives changed in an instant.

Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, and to tell you the truth I don't even remember unwrapping the gift. What I do remember is coming downstairs on Christmas night, after we kids had played all day, to find my parents sitting on the floor in front of the TV. They were playing Super Mario. It was the sweetest thing I'd ever seen.

Because I didn't grow up in a house of sweet moments.  It's pretty amazing they could afford that gift at all, though, thinking back, we had money when my father wasn't binge-drinking.  When he was, we didn't eat. No, that's an exaggeration too.  Dinner would be one can of Campbell's soup, or one box of KD. The sad thing is, that seemed totally normal to me.

My home wasn't always a safe place to be, and most of my memories of my parents' interactions end with my mom fake-calling the police. (She'd hold down the thingy on the receiver while she dialled 911 and have a pretend conversation into the phone.)  My father would always be too drunk to catch on, so he'd lock himself in the bathroom.

Except sometimes the police actually came, so I guess not all those calls were fake...

No wonder that one moment of Super Mario-related peace defines nostalgia, for me. I think it's the memory of my parents laughing together and, in a sense, collaborating instead of warring with each other that makes the thought so beautiful.

My father died when I was in my twenties. By then, I hadn't spoken to him in over a decade. I don't regret that choice. From what his landlady told us after his death, sounds like he didn't change much. So I hold on to this one memory as the cream of the sludge. It's good enough for me.


  1. It's tricky to combine my utter joy that you brought up Super Mario with my sadness for the difficulty of the childhood you describe. Someday, I dream of meeting you for coffee—we'll clearly have a lot to discuss.

    In any case, I grinned the moment I saw the Super Mario screen, and I love, love, love that you included a clip of the music at the bottom of the post. My feelings for Super Mario are what some people are supposed to feel for Santa Claus, I think. A wholehearted second to that.

    As a person who also grew up with parents fighting and constant visits from the police, my heart flipped over at the image of the two of your parents in the living room laughing and working together. I'm glad you have that moment to hold onto and I'm glad Super Mario assisted in bringing it to you. And I'm sorry for the rest.

    I hope you're having a lovely time in the woods.

  2. Giselle:
    Hope you're enjoying the outdoors and avoiding the ticks.
    I'm too old for Super Mario but the idea of your parents sharing a moment of laughter over a kids game is a bitter sweet image. A moment between storms. I'm sorry there weren't more moments like that.

  3. Never any police involved at my house, but plenty of verbal and emotional abuse hurled by both parents, mostly at each other. The only time they weren't fighting is when they were dancing. See, Dad had learned ballroom dancing in Scotland, and used that to woo women once he crossed the pond. It was the only time Mom wouldn't argue with him, because he HAD to be leading, since that's how it's done. Otherwise he belittled every aspect of her, and she tried to fight back. I grew up saying that if that's what marriage was like, I'd become a lesbian to avoid it. But I discovered I loved cock too much, so there was that...

    Super Mario is something my kids all hold dear as video gaming involves some of their fondest childhood memories. Husband and I would limit the amount of time they were allowed to play, as we limited their TV time also. I expected them to play outside or read books instead. I fought the good fight, they fought back, and now they're all erudite adults, with varied interests and strongly-held opinions which they discuss loudly when they get together. But they all agree about the Super Mario games.

    Re: Spencer--ticks are not that big of a problem this late in the season. They're really bad in the spring and early summer. Now it's the skeeters and biting black flies. But we have loads of bug spray packed, and we're heading out into the wilderness soon. Land of no wi-fi or cell phone signals. Where the loons call all day and night, and occasionally you hear wolves howling. Where daughter was once surprised while sunbathing next to the lake, when what she thought was a curious black dog turned out to be a bear cub--hard to say which of them was more frightened, since she knew Mama bears are usually not far from their cubs. But we love to camp, so see you all when we get back!

  4. Sounds like my parents, but my father drank to avoid my bipolar mother who could never trust doctors or meds. No police ever involved but lots of evil ranting up and down the block, crazy lies about my father, trying to demonize him at every chance she got. Finally, ay 65 she agreed to start treatment, and they had a few good years at the end.

    One of my most nostalgic memories as a teenager was catching them cuddling on a chaise. I was pleasantly shocked, as shows of affection were virtually nonexistent between them in those years.

    Have a great vacay, Gisselle!

  5. Sometimes I wonder how I became a writer when my early family life was fine. My stresses were from outside the family, not "fitting in" with my schoolmates, feeling like an outcast. Although looking back I do remember having good friends, and if I'd been willing to tone down being a smart girl back when that was only tolerated if you were also good-looking, and willing to make an effort to try to "be like everybody else," as one friend told me, I'd have got along better. Maybe those adolescent years just always leave their mark, no matter what.

    My kids missed out on Super Mario, going pretty much right from Pong to Atari games, and onward. They've always been eccentric, too, as I was. I remember once when my younger son's teacher--maybe second or third grade--told me that the kids teased a little him because of his advanced vocabulary, but not as much as they probably would have if they hadn't been used to him from the start. Maybe that was my problem, as well--advanced vocabulary. My mother was a librarian and my father worked with a book printing company. Books were my friends.

  6. My parents were the stoic type - I really never knew if they were happy or not together. Very few arguments ever that I can remember. So it was a surprise to me that after Dad passed away, when I asked my mother what her happiest memory was, she said, "The night Clive took me out dancing." My father's name was Jim.

  7. Giselle, I'm sorry you didn't have more happy memories from your childhood, but it seems that Super Mario was a great icebreaker. When I got together with my sweetie (now my spouse) in 1989, we had 3 kids between us, none of whom got along well. But they would play Super Mario together. My nostalgia for that game seems like the exact opposite of yours: watching my daughter & my girlfriend's two sons playing a game and laughing together, for a change.

  8. I'm with Sacchi. I sometimes wonder how I could have become a writer given my (relatively) calm and nurturing childhood. Yes, my parents divorced when I was twelve, and yes, my mom was an alcoholic (who later recovered, only to die at 52 from leukemia - talk about unfair!), but I usually felt safe and loved.

    Giselle, I deeply admire your honesty, not to mention your ability to spin your trials into terrific fiction.

    And for the record, I don't think I've ever even seen Super Mario (except for screen shots).


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