Small Things #3
I saw him when I was two, and then again thirty years later at my mother’s funeral.
His name was, and presumably still is, Greg Kim. He lived down the road from us in Marysville, California. Marysville was a John Cougar kind of small town back then, and remains one today. Joined by a Feather River bridge to Yuba City, it’s an overgrown gold rush camp that never flourished but refuses to quit. I don’t know what Greg did in Marysville, but I’ll make up his backstory* on the spot and say he was third generation Chinese, whose grandparents had built the railroads or washed miners’ clothes. Hey, did you know that just down the road in Sacramento and Frisco J there used to be huge anti-Chinese riots? Immigrant workers were often rounded up, beaten and lynched. Not something California is proud of, but it’s real history.
Anyway, we moved to Sacramento one night in 1973. I remember playing with a tiny wind up robot toy as I watched someone roll up our huge Royal Sarouk “oriental” carpet. Something about watching the flat ground beneath my feet turn into a giant cylinder has stuck with me through the years. I’m not sure what that something is, but there’s a sort of tingling that says hey Tod that was a moment when your brain took a developmental leap. You know those tinglings? Those moments?
My family had that carpet for over seventy years. I still remember it’s smell and deep vibrant softness. I grew up playing on it every day as it invariably filled our small living rooms from corner to corner. Mom ended up selling it to Turkish carpet crooks to cover rent and medical. We found out later it was nearly priceless when my brother stumbled upon it’s mirror image at an antique carpet dealer.
I’m trying to get to Greg but I’m getting distracted by other memories. After the robot toy carpet roll up scene, I’m loaded into the station wagon. My dad always drove the longest station wagon on the market. Got a fifty footer? Sold. Bad idea as he was a terrible, terrible driver. I was in the back row, driver’s side, and Greg poked his head in to say goodbye. He was, and remains in my memory, nothing but a smile. Yes, he had a face but it was his smile that made the memory sticky. Some small moments stick forever while some big ones are lost. I wonder if big moments that come with smiles ever get lost. I doubt it.
Over the years, I would think on Greg’s smile from time to time and wonder who that guy was. I didn’t think to ask my siblings. So, my mom dies a few years back and during her funeral (why are funeral’s soooo boring? Maybe because everything Catholics do is boring?) in walks the smile. I recognized it right away. Nothing about Greg had changed. He was dropped out of my memories whole and unblemished. He was there with his boyfriend (husband?) and guess what? He remembered me! For some reason it made me really happy to know that he’d remembered me. I think he lives in Sacramento now and does something successful. He looked happy. It was a really neat moment.
[The “Small Things” series consists ofhalf-hour morning exercises. I sit, let a memory hit and type it out …. with the clock set for one half hour. Doesn’t leave much time for worrying about grammar or editing. Just get the stuff out the door.]