by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.20
December 9, 2003
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- As the youngest of nine children, I was always so proud to sit at that table literally surrounded by brothers and sisters. One by one over the years, there became fewer of us still standing. We've lessened our number but still increased the size of the family with the boys and girls of our next generation.
There is but one sibling remaining now, and, although she is still among the healthy living, able to smile and talk and listen, she has no memory when she looks at me, her youngest sister, that once she held me in her arms when she was a teenager and I was a newborn baby.
Perhaps my birthday brought on a day of reflection; today I alone am the only witness to my entire life. That's a very sobering thought, considering I frequently say I can't remember a thing - where I've put my car keys, my purse, my checkbook - so how can I remember my life in a way that would make reflections a pleasurable pastime?
I decided to put it to the test - no pencil and paper, no thumbing through childhood diaries - just me, and quiet. It wasn't quite the task I'd imagined. I decided to do my best to handle the memories chronologically and I learned that through every memory I've harbored, I've had me, beside myself, looking on and remembering.
Was the tantrum justified? There I am, not yet three years old, bouncing my behind on the hard wood floor, Papa and Mama staring at me as I screamed for an ice-cream cone I was promised. "But, Connie, it's snowing now. Papa can't drive to the store." There was no consoling me, no substitute; they felt badly, I see it in their faces, but they were helpless and I was content to scream. Finally spent, I see myself curled on the shoulder that carried me to bed.
Delving deeper into the memory bank, I now recall my first thrill - in the true sense of the word: I was scrunched into an orange crate - yes, a wooden orange crate - that was nailed to a three-foot-long 2x4 board with metal ball-bearing skates fastened to the bottom. The ten-year-old boy who made the "scooter" told me to hold my knees up to my chest, put my arms around them, and "make yourself small." The further back I pushed myself, the more my cap slid forward over my forehead.
He slowly pushed the scooter to the top of the hill - really just an incline on the road in front of our houses. He then turned it around and gave it one good scoot before lining his two feet one in front of the other and "steering" us down the hill. I, of course could see nothing behind me and just the wind blowing his hair back as speed picked up.20
The thrill of fear and excitement has never been equaled - I was beside myself with glee - right up to the point of no return. The only way to stop was to head toward the last piece of curb before the intersection. The boy would start trying to slow down with a foot-dragging motion and then the big bang. I'd be in the crate that was upended and he'd fly over the entire contraption. We'd come up laughing, and look around for the other kids doing the same thing.
My memories are safe. Discovering I was beside myself all along the way, taking mental notes to be recalled when I took time for it, was reassuring. I was no more than five during that orange-crate-near-death experience (hind sight being so 20/20) but I was a grown woman, mother of about five at the time of another near death experience.
We were all at the beach on Lake Michigan. I was beside myself with envy that time. One of our neighbors bought a red fiberglass sailfish boat and was skimming the waters nearby. "C'mon, girls, I'll give you a ride." Barbara and I corralled the kids with another mom or dad and tripped the light fantastic out to the slim boat.
We didn't know how to play the wind and we leaned too far one way and he struggled with the wind to bring it out of the tilt. Then we'd laugh and it would tip the other way and he'd struggle to right it again. We couldn't stop laughing and we leaned right into capsizing the boat - laughing all the way.
I was beside myself then, too, and I can see clearly how afraid I was to realize I was under the boat, still laughing and choking on the waters of Lake Michigan, afraid and yet not really afraid because my feet were touching bottom right up to my ankles, thinking I could drown or, at the very least, frighten my children watching from shore.
Obviously, I was fine ... but I still remember.
Wherever I go, I'm beside myself. One of us has to take mental notes. I'm always too busy "doing" to see the passage of time. Friends seem to feel the same way. We all agree that on the inside we're still 17 years old, except a lot wiser than we were then.20
In my somber state of meditation today, I thought of my brothers and sisters and different events in our lives - not the high notes, just the day-to-day happenings we think we might forget. When I look into the mirror, I can see a touch of all of them in the angles of my face, the color of my eyes, the texture of my hair.
Then, at long last, as I stood before that mirror looking at me, I was not only beside myself ... I was inside my mother.