As far as a sense of memory goes (is it a sense? A power, a skill?), I’ve been told that mine was not half bad. My buddy Artur was fond of saying, “You have elephant memory.” Artur is Polish, and over in Eastern Europe they don’t bother with determiners. So I was spared the humdrum sensation of feeling like a run-of-the-mill elephant had he stuck with the Queen’s “You have an elephant’s memory.” Instead, I was hoisted to new heights. I WAS Elephant Memory.
[As an aside, more Eastern European delicacies: The other Artur in Bristol (yes, there were only 2) used to coach volleyball. Before the drill he intended for us to do, he would explain: “I pass ball you, you up.”]
Although in no way do I possess a photographic memory (that supernatural gift we all so desire), kind comments like Artur’s usually come up once I’ve amused or alarmed someone with feats from a fairly dependable visuospatial scratch pad. In Artur’s case, it was a Polish tongue twister, taught to me by Dr Zaborowski during a lull in clinic:
W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie
Two days ago, while S was revising a topic after our tandem study session, he asked aloud, “Now what’s a decibel…” as he flipped through his textbook. “It’s the log of the ratio of the square of two waves,” I replied, concentrating on attaching another sliver of millefiori on my bead. There was a silence, and I looked up to see S eyeing me suspiciously, his pen held in mid-air. “Do I have Alzheimer’s?” he asked, and his voice trembled a little.
But here’s the problem : I’ve been running into trouble recently. There are 2 specific childhood memories that I have been trying desperately to drudge up, and for shame of shames, my pachyderm powers seem to be hitting a brick wall. Help me.
Everytime I see a bushy squirrel – and they cavort so cutely all over Cleveland! – I try to recall the squirrel nursery rhyme from my pre-school in Carbondale, and I CAN’T! The melody eludes me, and the words drop off the cliff in my mind before I can reach them. I remember that said squirrel really loved nuts. He gathered them by the dozens and stuffed them in his mouth. I remember me, Stephanie and Sandra puffing out our cheeks and hopping along to the music, our hands held a short distance in front of us à la squirrels (or T-rex). But then I got nothin’.
Ramayana is one of my favorite legendary tales. It is just so fantastic, no matter how you tell it. Some notable narrations are by Sara in The Little Princess (which incidentally will remain in my top 10 movies list for always), and that dream-like dance performance we went to in Kuala Lumpur one year, produced by the city’s most prominent Indian dance teacher, who was teaching a very talented little Eeshkie at the time. The woman who danced Sita’s part moved at once so powerfully and delicately, it took my breath away. Here she was swaying her hips gracefully in an ellipse, while her ankles stamped out a raging carillon. There she was wringing her wrists in a desperate attempt to escape Ravana’s grip, whilst her eyes fluttered open and close in a Morse code to Rama. To be like Sita, was to be so soft you could wrestle with tigers; so strong you could dance on lotus leaves.
The BEST narration, however, was a cartoon version of Ramayana I watched when I was 8 or 9. The character that held my attention this time was not Sita, but the monkey Hanuman. When I close my eyes and concentrate, I see an image of him trying to prize a magical band that had been placed around his head. I remember how enraptured I was with the adventure, how much I loved it. But I could remember no real details that would enable me to relocate the episodes.
Last night, S and I engaged in a salvo of mockery. Not exactly the most romantic post-dinner conversation, but I didn’t mind; as everyone knows, in every ridicule, there lies a little bit of admiration. So, when S is making fun of my new haircut, he’s actually envious of the fact that I’m carry the pouffey crop that he’s always wanted. Aiming at the silhouette of my head, he fired: “You look like a radish.”
Instantly my neurons went pinging. Ping ping ping ping ping ping ping ping ping ping ping ping. Like supernovae across an old galactic neighborhood whose generator had previously broken down and relegated it to a sullen darkness.
I remember Roger Radish.
Once upon a time, when the world was simple and beautiful, I owned a collection of books about the Garden Gang. The books were published by Ladybird and each volume held stories starring a pair of live fruit or veg. They had kindly faces on big veggie heads, they lived in houses and had hobbies and chores, and they walked about on long spindly legs. Their entire existence had been authored and illustrated by Jayne Fisher – who was only 9! That was only 4 years older than all of me! Her picture, with her hair pulled back off her sweet, smiling face, was found on the back of every volume, framed and blurbed.
As my neurons fired a Chinese cracker rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat, I reeled back into the stories. Roger Radish had a lot of glamorous friends like Penelope Strawberry and Sheila Shallot. Their other friend, Lucy Leek, was a compulsive cleaner. She sank her hands into tubs full of suds, the bubbles outlined a convincingly clean blue, and got into trouble for her obsessive need to wash everyone’s clothes and linens.
Bertie Brussel Sprouts was a sort of athlete, and had a big ‘fro-like head that contrasted with his skinny legs. He ran in tiny jogging pants, and practiced super hard everyday, so it wasn’t surprising that when the Garden Gang had a sports day, he came away with a bright gold meal. I don’t really remember what Percival Pea was all about, except that I was intrigued by the strangeness of his name. Per-Ci-Val. No one I knew in Kuala Lumpur was called Percival, so I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it.
Benny Broadbean became a backyard natural historian when a cluster of transparent jelly with little black dots appeared in his pond. He watched them everyday, and drew their black shapes in his notebook. First dots, then commas, then one day they were gone! He was so sad … until he saw they had grown into little frogs. I learned the word ‘tadpole’, and it made me feel so scientific. How marvellous the world is!
What these books did to me were wondrous. The solid colours on the covers of those slim, hardback volumes were such a comforting part of my world. I wanted to do everything the Garden Gang did, but most of all, I wanted to do what Jayne did. Writing her stories for kids like me, she seemed like the bravest girl in the world.
Me … I wanted to be a writer, too.
After all the remembering, I’m left with a good dose of curiosity. If anyone knows what happened to Jayne Fisher, please let me know! If you loved the Garden Gang, too, let’s reminisce together! If anyone watched an awesome Ramayana / Hanuman cartoon back in the 80’s or early 90’s, put the link up here! And since it’s been driving me absolutely insane, I am offering the prize of a pretty beaded bangle to anyone – ANYONE – who can find me the squirrel song that I once so fervently chanted in Miss Cooper’s class at Eurma Hayes in 1986.