I grew up on a dead end street in St. Charles, Michigan. Pine Street. Where the woods waved to the chocolate waters of the Bad River. The rhubarb was lush and overgrown. The rabbits munched on my mom’s marigolds.
It’s where I helped my dad string colorful Christmas lights –the large bulb ones, glowing red and orange and green and blue —along the wooden fence. When the stapler didn’t work, Dad threw it into the trees. It arced in the air like a football, propelled by pure frustration. It’s a tale that my family loves to tell: The Day Dad Got Mad at the Staple Gun.
Instead of neighbors, I had pine trees.
Instead of pavement, I had potholes.
Instead of other children to play with, I had Canadian geese, whitetail deer and my imagination.
I stood on top of our backyard picnic table in front of a large oak tree and danced with its branches, singing “Once Upon a Dream” from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I loved sequined dance costumes and Labrador puppies. I hated snakes and math.
I picked goldenrod and Black Eyed Susans. I collected frogs. I swung on a rickety metal swing set after dinner. My toes tried to interrupt the stretch of dusk blue sky as the sun went to sleep.
For my tenth birthday, we went to Wawa, Canada. I held Northern Pikes by my fingertips and unwrapped a George Strait cassette tape and too many Beanie Babies to count. My brother and I cried in the backseat as we drove home. We didn’t want to leave that paradise of tall trees and fish-filled lakes. I've never been back. I wish I could. Maybe I will.
When I got a good report card, my mom brought me home an Oreo flurry from The Freezer. The place had yellow lights that matched the curled corners of dessert pictures under the menu. Nowadays, the same photos still cling to the glass, though I've traded in my Oreo preference for cookie dough.
My dad shook sugar on my Rice Krispies cereal. My mom put green Mr. Yuk stickers on her perfume bottles. My brother and I ran through the sprinklers in the front yard. I practiced my shuffle-ball-changes in tan tap shoes on the cement driveway.
Our carpet was the color of rust.
A stuffed pheasant stood on our mantle.
The couches were plaid and the counters were white.
I read books. I wrote cursive. I played with my Barbie dolls and counted my quarters to buy an American Girl doll. I didn’t save up enough, though.
My mom ended up buying the doll—her name was Samantha—as a gift for my eighth birthday. I normally wouldn’t have received such an ostentatious present, but that was the birthday Mom had to miss, and her guilt took over… just like the cancer bombarding my grandma’s body.
Mom went to Minnesota to sit by Grandma’s side. We both became daughters that said goodbye to our mothers that week. One for a week. One for awhile.
My grandma died three days after I blew out the candles on my cake. She wrote with scrawled cursive inside my birthday card before she passed away: “I love you forever, I’ll like you for always, forever and ever, my granddaughter you’ll be.” We still have the card.
I wrote about her death during our fifth grade MEAP exam. The prompt? "Describe something you lost." It was the first time I realized writing about your feelings can help you understand them.
My birthday is next week. As I turn the corner on another year, I reflect on the past 365 days—its tangles, its turns, its lessons, its loves, its losses—and then I dive deeper. I examine the years before this one, and the last one, and the one before that. They’re all pieces of the puzzle that has led me to this birthday, this year, this age.
I reflect on how I’ve grown up…and how growing up doesn’t always mean you feel like a grown up. We're all still kids at heart of it all: nervous to walk into the classroom or say hi on the playground or tell that person how we feel or fall off the bike. Skin your knee. Get a bruise. Break your heart.
It’s all the same feelings...just a different landscape.
It’s the board room instead of the classroom.
The party instead of the playground.
The car instead of the bicycle.
Still...we try to heal the best we can. We grow. We learn that the truth is a shapeshifter, and feelings can change their minds.
At the end of the day, I’m every piece of my past:
I’m the little girl picking goldenrod and placing it in my play stroller.
I’m the teenager tap-dancing on stage.
I’m the high school senior hitting the volleyball.
I’m the college student writing the essay.
I’m the woman wearing the black blazer, or drinking the white wine, or dancing to Taylor Swift.
I’m the girl in other people’s memories, too. The one who rolled silverware behind the counter at Bob Evans, or talked until 4 a.m. in the hallway of Beddow Hall, or cried in the emergency room, or hugged you goodbye.
The one that wanted to stay. The one that walked away. The one that said the right things, the wrong things, the things that needed to be said...maybe the things that shouldn’t have been said at all. The one who laughs loud and high fives and trips and falls and feels too much, too often.
I have my mother’s voice and brown eyes. My dad’s humor and ears. I am a sister. I’m a friend. I’m forever Lindsay with an A. I’ll always be impressed if you spell it right on the first try.
The sum is greater than the parts. Some things change. Some things don’t. And it’s all a part of our story. My story. Here. Now. Always.