These things I remember

This is me, circa 1969.

I moved a lot when I was growing up, roughly every two years, until high school. By the time I was four years old, I was living at 63 Eisenhower Drive in Springetts Manor Apartments in York, PA, at least my third address that I’m aware of. We lived there from about 1970 to 1972, through first grade. This would have probably been my first home since my birth father left and my mother remarried. I remember a lot from that time, but I don’t remember him.

My mother worked at the local radio station. I don’t know exactly what her job was, but at least once I remember she lent her voice to a local commercial. That was cool. For my fifth birthday, she got the DJ’s to say happy birthday to me on air — I listened on the new transistor radio my parents got me as a birthday present. I felt like I was famous.

My adopted father worked in trucking and played on his company’s baseball team. I remember he quit smoking when we lived in this apartment, as a new year’s resolution, just like that. He never looked back. It still strikes me as one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen him do.

In kindergarten, I remember we learned the words to Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head and It’s a Small World. It was my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Harlocker, who counseled my parents not to have my brother start kindergarten as a four-year-old, even though it was an option for him. It was also Mrs. Harlocker who asked our class how our parents voted in the presidential election. Two kids raised their hands for George McGovern. Interesting, she observed, out loud, that the only votes for McGovern were from the two Jewish families.

I remember our friends Tracy and Jackie Venable, whose mother would babysit for us. They lived in a building closer to the swimming pool and playground. I remember the boy upstairs who came to live with his grandparents when his parents were both killed in a tragic car accident. His legs were in a lower-body cast when he arrived. There were also three women who shared an apartment in the building. I remember them being pretty and stylish. The apartment had lots of plants and beads and macrame. And I remember a couple who had a VW Bus. We thought they were hippies. I vaguely remember they were robbed.

My parents’ closest friends were Larry and Darla Conover. They didn’t have children then. My dad called Larry, the “Kid.” The four of them played a card game called 500 Bid. It wasn’t typical for us to maintain old friendships when we moved, but Larry and Darla stayed in our lives after we left Pennsylvania. I’ll always think of them as my parents’ cool, younger friends. Funny that they seemed so much younger than my parents, who were themselves only in their mid-20s.

Every morning, we walked out to the “giant” rock at the end of our street that we would climb while we waited for the school bus. I remember the unlandscaped hill next to our building that sloped down to the adjacent industrial park, sort of a demilitarized buffer between us. It felt like the only untamed, natural terrain in our suburban apartment complex, at least that I could explore alone at the age of five.

The thing I most remember, some fifty years later, was a hall closet that my parents let me call my own. My brother and I shared a bedroom, but I also had this closet.

There was nothing special about it, aside from its size — and that it existed at all in this modest two-bedroom apartment. Other than an orange wooden bookcase, the space was devoid of much personality. It held my books and my National Geographic World magazines — the magazines I would use for my school project about the moon landing. There was generally a lot of stuff on the floor, but I could still sit comfortably. I remember that I had a large chalk board in the space, where I would do addition and practice writing “cursive” — some squiggles drawn without lifting the chalk off the board.

And no one called it anything other than “the closet.” No one tried to dress it up by calling it my playroom. But it was a haven for me. I could go there when my parents would argue. Or when I was angry or embarrassed or being punished. Or just to reflect or think or be. It was a space where I could do anything or nothing. No one bothered me there.

All of these people I knew and the experiences I had at that age were all connected in my mind by this space. Consciously or not, this is where I thought about who I was in this world and how I fit in with these people around me. In a genuine sense, this space was the center of my inner life.

Of all these things I remember from this time, I’ve wondered over the years, how did I not remember my birth father? He had left sometime around my third birthday, but by the time I was four, it seems, I had no memory of him. Maybe my mother and my adopted father thought it was best to forget. Who else knew?

I wouldn’t be told about him for another 30 years until my parents divorced and my mother shared my adoption story. Even after meeting my birth father as an adult, the memories were no clearer. How had I remembered Mrs. Harlocker and the words to Raindrops, but forgotten my father? Maybe I was simply too young or maybe the memory of this loss was just so painful that I buried it and let its memory be overwritten by new ones.

I know this loss created an underlying insecurity in me that still influences my emotional life today, but I also see that my time in this apartment, with these people, somehow played a role in helping me move forward. And I know my closet gave me a space to heal.

To this day, when I think of how a space should make you feel — safe, protected, creative, and free — I remember this closet.

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Beau Everett

Imagining a better world, while trying to make sense of the one we’ve got.