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The Driveway by William Matheson
childhood memories make wonderful writing material because they are so
pure. There's no need for exposition, I don't need to tell you all sorts
of stupid things about "how I was feeling," or that I was sad because my
girlfriend dumped me. No, my first memory comes far before that (my first
girlfriend would in fact be twenty years away) even before my first words.
(My first word was probably, "Pepsi," and if that sounds too depressing
to even consider, please realize that I was simply reading it off a convenience
store sign while I rode in my car seat.)
My first memory helps to define the person that I always hoped I'd be in the way that it underscores a simple trait without loading the moment with any strange qualifiers that are present in most later memories. In my case, I am glad that my first memory is a first memory imagine how scarred you would be if your first memory was of all the children on the playground calling you "Chatterbox!" or of all your pleas for a push on the swing going unanswered. In my memory, I don't have any embarrassment over something I said, nor do I fear the wrath of the ICQ angels.
I'm in my car seat on the back seat. The back seat of the car was a great place to be as a very young child it was always nice and warm and cozy, and the best part was that I wasn't under any obligation to take note of anything. If I wanted to notice something, I would. If I didn't, the driving would be simply a pleasant blur of sound and colour, broken up by sleep, and bordered by happy family moments. Stevie Wonder and Elton John provided the soundtrack through the cassette deck. How long to Cape Tormentine? "Count to sixty sixty times." Well, that was later, but you get the idea.
On this particular moment that I recall and type with a Pepsi® Vanilla in my hand, I did notice something something extremely wrong. Something so wrong that I had to say something, but words failed me because, as I've said, I didn't really know any words.
I was in the back seat of Aunt Shirley and Uncle Shane's car, and we had taken the left turn off Trunk 7 at the Antigonish side of Sherbrooke to go up Old Road Hill. It was going to be my second visit to Nanny and Grampy's house (Us fortunate few who grow up with all four grandparents often end up with unique familiar names for each set.). It was going to be Aunt Shirley and Uncle Shane's first visit, which sounds weird until I tell you that Aunt Shirley is my father's sister, and then it all makes sense. I've always loved going to Nanny and Grampy's because of the lake and the trees and even the way that the electrical insulators on the power poles were clear blue.
One thing I especially loved was the long, very long, gravel driveway. First of all, in PEI you didn't even have gravel driveways if someone was going to go to the expense of importing Nova Scotian gravel, they'd might as well just pave their driveway too and be done with it. Secondly, the trees surrounding the driveway were tall and green and varied PEI is covered in White Spruce. Thirdly, the driveway ends upon a lake, and there arent any lakes to speak of in PEI. (To convert PEI geography to regular geography, just knock the PEI units down a notch. For instance, a PEI "lake" is equivalent to a Nova Scotia pond. As for the PEI community of "Little Pond" well, let's just say I haven't found the pond yet.) And, most joyful of all, the driveway began going up the side of a hill and into the trees as soon as you lit upon it. The driveway didn't intersect Old Road Hill so much as forked away from it, and everything about it was welcoming and the sight of it (as I can verify now) makes you want to steer right into it, hit the accelerator, and drive away from the rest of the world. The driveway meant Nanny and Grampy's.
Well, we drove right past it.
Since my communication skills were limited at the time, I wasn't able to articulate to them that we should turn around, or stop and back up, or just do something that would get us back to that driveway! Today, Uncle Shane tells me that he noticed me fussing and said to Shirley, "I think we missed the turn-off." I don't remember that, probably because I didn't know any words. However, I do remember driving all the way up Old Road Hill, all the way back down to the Port Bickerton road, then coming back to Sherbrooke through Stillwater (again). Aunt Shirley and Uncle Shane instinctively found the right driveway on the second attempt. My work for the day was done.
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