I begin to put lines and symbols on paper. The assignment seems simple enough; make a drawing of your earliest memory of a neighborhood. As I sketch in the two-story duplex that I called home during my school years, memories invade my thoughts, vivid and intimate.
I concentrate on the task at hand. Here is a square topped off with a cross to represent the little Catholic church which dominated our lives. Next to it the schoolhouse with attached nunnery for the teachers. But my mind rushes past the solid structures, remembering the patches of wild strawberries and the fruit-heavy blueberry bushes that grew in the low meadow beyond the school yard.
At the square marking my home, I pause trying to figure out how to include the sand-pile behind the house. Not an ordinary sandbox, but an area several yards square where we would create whole villages complete with hills and tunnels and roads for our little cars and trucks. My crude drawings can't keep up with my memories.
I still my hands. In my imagination, I climb again the rise of land behind the barn, pulling a disappearing act once again from a small house that held too many people.
How often in those years, as I hovered on the brink of adulthood, did I seek out the seclusion and isolation of this exposed site? The prickle of the grass, the feel of the hot sun on my skin, the smell of a summer's day--it all comes rushing back and I drop my pencil, frustrated because I cannot translate it onto paper.
What simple drawing could convey the inner needs that drove me to seek this place of solitude? The need to escape, escape from the daily press of being eldest in a family of numerous children. There was this desperate need to be solitary, to give myself room to stretch, to discover who I was.
This lonely hilltop provided the space to timidly explore rooms of my mind, rooms whose doors I had only passed by until now. I would lie on my back, watching the clouds play their silent cat-and-mouse game while thoughts long held captive peeked around the open door and took a tentative step into my consciousness.
As if I were still there, I see myself reach for a blade of grass to chew on, remembering the taste as its sweet juices slid down my throat. While on that hill, time stood still for me. I savored this aloneness--this time to daydream, to explore my changing feelings--this attempt to penetrate the thick veil of time into my future.
It felt like I had stepped off the spinning world and hung in space. This became for me, a breathing space, a time to plunge the depths of my thoughts, sort out conflicting emotions. I became conscious of the slow in-and-out moving of each breath I took as I pondered the puzzles of my life.
Even as I write, I recapture that feeling and it draws me backward in time, away from the words, away from the drawing, away from the memory I was attempting to recall. I am enticed by the sense of peace and satisfaction associated with that hilltop. I will lay down my pen and return. Once again, I will stretch out on the warm grass, just me, a breeze and the sun.