My First Seeing
I camped with my parents in the upper peninsula of Michigan during the summer I was three. To get to our campsite we drove down a long dirt road, ending up at a clearing on the shore of a lake where there was nothing but a narrow dock, a rowboat, an outhouse, and trees.
We slept in the black canvas tent my dad used for deer hunting. It had flaps that tied closed and no floor. The tent smelled of mildew, and at night our cots creaked when we moved.
In the mornings we washed at a white metal bowl filled with water from the lake and a floating bar of soggy Ivory Soap. My dad stood to shave in front of a mirror he hung from a nail in a tree, the scritch-scritch sound of the razor blending with bird calls, as my my mom fried bacon and eggs on a Coleman stove.
Kerosene lanterns hissed at night, and animals made strange sounds in the woods. When it rained my mom told me not to touch the canvas walls of the tent, but of course I did. I couldn't resist. Just the touch of my small fingertip would cause a black spot of dampness to appear, like magic, so fascinating. I touched it again and again.
My grandson refers to the time before he can remember as "before I could see." And maybe this camping trip was my first seeing; the first time neurons fired in my medial temporal lobe, recording the scents, sounds, textures, and images upon which all my remembered moments have been layered.
They say memory isn't linear, but woven like cloth. Perhaps explaining why recollections of damp canvas, soggy soap, and hissing kerosene have stuck with me so vividly, and for so long. Entwined with every significant thing remembered since.
My memoir, Almost Home, was published in 2017. I write essays, short fiction, and some poetry. I earned my MFA at Queens University of Charlotte, and I live in Michigan. My website is www.hilaryharper.net
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