In Search of Lost Time ( A Nod to Proust )

Jane Ann Tucker
The Memoirist
Published in
9 min readMar 23


(Photo by Nelly Antoniadou on Unslpash)

“Weren’t You Bored?”

“Ga-goo, I mean Grandma,” saying word grandma was still a little forced and stilted in her mouth. Claire didn’t want to use her baby name for me anymore. “Can we go somewhere fun before we go home? Please?” Those eyes!

“Where? There’s no place to go.” Strip malls lined each side of the street. Yesterday: Cheer-leading, tomorrow afternoon: gymnastics. How’d my daughter keep up with this?

“Look,” I couldn’t see where she was pointing. “There, McDonald's, Mommy never takes us, she says the food is bad for us. But Isabella goes all the time and they have toys! They have the Frozen dolls now, even Olaf, but I want Elsa.”

“We can’t have a happy meal right now. It’s too close to dinner. The toys only come with in the meal box.” I glanced up at a poster advertising an Oreo McFlurry, the familiar blue with the word OREO in white capital letters, just like the cookie package: Genuine Nabisco cookies. “How about a milkshake?”

“Oh Ga-goo, really?” Her voice three octaves higher.
A paper coffee cup sat in front of me, possibly the worst coffee ever. Claire swirled around in the swivel seat. I caught the scent of her McFlurry. “Why didn’t you get one Grandma?” The straw had a spoon-like shovel at the end. Claire shoveled away. I stared at her, licking. A ring of vanilla with chocolate specks lined her lips.

“That’s all right sweetheart, I’m happy with my coffee.”

“But you don’t look happy. Grandma, what did you do when you were little? You didn’t have TV in the daytime or movies, and no iPhone games,” she asked. Her little blond eye brows knit together.

“Well, I had to use my imagination,” my eyes glued to her McFlurry.

“That’s so boring, weren’t you bored?” Claire asked.

“Are you kidding? Of course we were bored, but it was a good kind of boredom.”

“Here, Ga-goo,” Claire held her sticky spoon out to me.

The first chunk of Oreo and I was back on Euclid Ave., in Indiana, eight-years-old. Okay, obviously not as romantic as that crumb of madeleine cookie in Proust’s memoir. But close enough…

Childhood happened outside, few memories occurred inside the walls of a house. Before I could read, my text was the neighborhood. The entire area etched in my brain. I knew how every backyard looked from the alley, where the side walk was cracked, or the concrete buckled. You learned that the first time you got knocked off your bike. As soon as I could say my say five-digit phone number and recite my address. I had freedom to roam.

In autumn I spent hours searching for the perfect yellow or red maple leaves, without broken or cracked points at the ends. With two sheets of waxed paper, I’d lay them between pages of Encyclopedia Britannica. I loved the reddish brown covers with gold letters and the weight of those books! I pretended I was a college girl; with three or four volumes in my arms I’d walk around the whole block, sure that people would think I was in college.

All the kids on our street kicked leaves and jumped into piles of raked leaves. Crinkly pieces stuck in my hair and slid down my shirt. The scent of burning leaves remains one of my favorite smells. At dusk we’d watch as the men burned leaf piles. At first smoldering smoke formed ghostly shadows. Then one of the dads poked the bottom of the pile with a stick and whoosh, a fire. My eyes burned, but the scent was too rich to move away.

Winter didn’t keep us indoors. When the first big flakes drifted down, I’d run outside, not putting my mittens on or zipping my jacket, my tongue out catching the snow. I’d drag my sled, on a rope behind me, to slide down the hill by our church.

All winter I’d fretted about going face-first downhill. One day I hesitated so many times I felt hot under my jacket. But I did it! My nose felt colder inches from the snow. It smelled different too, not a really scent all: fresh water mixed with wet wool. I learned, for the first time, what speed and steering meant and never again did I ride sitting up on my sled like a little kid.

(Photo by Bill Alexy on Unsplash)

Snow formed in clumpy balls around the cuffs of my jacket. In our front yards we’d build snowmen until our fingers were numb. The snow had to be just right, not too wet or too dry. Boys dodged around having snowball fights. And I know they secretly threw snow-covered ice balls at cars. They’d duck behind the spruce trees if a car slowed. I spent quite a bit of time being a spy. A boulevard thick with pines and blue spruce ran the length of our block.

Eternal is the only word for summer. A single summer day was indistinguishable from the next. It stretched out like a long straight road, or endless rows of corn: the landscape of Indiana. Time sauntered, especially in the heat. The leafy oak tree our back yard became my haven. I’d lie on my back in the grass and look up at patches of sky. The robin’s nest was empty now. Peeping baby birds fledged a week ago. Every day, even in the rain, I’d go out and check on them and watch the mother ram worms into the noisy nest. Finally I saw ugly, veiny, necks pop up. I’d thought they might be cute, like the birds in my Golden Books.

Unless it was pouring down rain or lightening, we had to play outside until lunch, afterwards we’d stay out until dinner. At supper-time my mom whistled like a man, dinner bells rang too. Parents didn’t call more than once. We all dashed to our houses. After dinner we’d play kick the can or dodge ball in the street. Someone would yell “car” if a car was coming. We romped around until the street lights glowed. Darkness fell, turning the night magical; lightning bugs appeared. We’d catch them in or hands, scooping them right out of the air. The boys squished them, rubbed the greenish-yellow goo on their faces and chased us. I liked to watch them twinkle all night. I’d catch them in a glass jar. Later I’d put aluminum foil on top and poke air holes with a pencil. That musty smell stayed on my hands all night.

My sister, the neighborhood girls and I played horses almost every day. Linda pranced like a fancy show horse with her hair in a high pony tail. The rest of us trotted or cantered around the backyard, no one walked. When Jane Lynn got her braces and headgear my sister tied string onto the headgear as a bridle, I’m sure it hurt, but she was a good horse.

Jennifer and Wendy decided everyone’s horse names. Not once did I ever get the name I wanted. Of course Wendy was Black Beauty with her black hair. I longed to be Flicka, Silver, Fury, but always ended up as White Socks or Lightening, not a famous horse or a good name either.

Wendy, Debbie, Linda and I spent long afternoons in our backyard because we had the best swing set in the neighborhood. We competed to see who could swing the highest. I’d swing until the chains snapped with slack in the chains. My stomach somersaulted. I wanted to go over the top and launch myself into the sky.

Photo property of author. ( Jane Lynn, Wendy, Debbie, Jennifer, Linda and me )

On the bars, Jennifer and I tried to out do each other in pull-ups; our arms bulged. We took turns counting how long we could hang from our knees.

There weren’t grown-ups around, adults were like another species.

The wooden teeter totter had splinters, but we didn’t care. We shifted our weight around, with Wendy and me on one end and Debbie on the other to balance. My mother said Debbie was “developing early,” she was heavier than the rest of us. We’d bounce each other off one end of the teeter-totter on purpose, someone always landing hard on her bottom.

Once a long sliver of wood slid into the top of my leg. I winced as I walked across the street. Mrs. Cunningham was always home, that’s where we went for cuts and scrapes. Her husband was our doctor, he made house calls with a black leather bag. You didn’t go to the doctor’s office when you were sick. Mrs. Cunningham told me not to look, but I saw the tweezers. She pulled it out and painted Mercurochrome on my leg. I had a reddish-brown smudge right below my shorts for days. When people asked what happened, I whimpered (a little) when I told the story, forcing myself not to smile.

We walked to school in all weather. Parents didn’t drive children to school since most families owned only one car. My mother didn’t take Jennifer or me on the first day of kindergarten; we joined the older kids and put on brave faces. Every classroom had the same three scents: pencil shavings, chalk dust, and Pine-Sol cleaner. In freezing temperatures and below, we could wear snow pants under our dresses until we got to school. Then we’d peel the snow pants off and hang them near the radiator in the cloak room. Black or red rubber boots sat in a separate place.

The cloak room was also where students who didn’t behave went. The teacher closed the door and sometimes she forgot about the student in the cloak room. I was always good because I was scared just thinking of being in there with the door shut and those ghost like hanging coats. If any students sassed the teacher or acted up, they had to stay after school and wash the chalk boards. I’d never act up because chalk and erasers made my hands feel dry and rubbery. Really naughty kids were sent straight to the principal’s office. We’d all listen in hushed quiet to the “thwack, thwack, thwack” of the paddle echoing in the hallway.

We presented musicals every few weeks. The production of Camelot in the garage required four days of rehearsals. We cut out paper tickets, but they didn’t look right. We used green stamps from the grocery since they looked more official. Debbie and Jane Lynn made costumes from the dress-up box. It didn’t matter that we didn’t have many in the card table chairs: Dan, Linda’s little brother; my great Aunt Nell; Debbie’s sister; and Mrs. Roskin. To me, it was a giant audience.

I didn’t have a part in the show. I was the “curtain girl,” pulling the ropes on the garage door, moving it up and down for scenes. The rough rope made my hands smell like dirt and old tires. I operated the record player, carefully lifting and lowering the needle. Jennifer reminded me of the importance of my two jobs and that’d I be in big trouble if I scratched Mom’s album.

I played alone a lot. I liked to play in Cricket’s dog house; he never used it so lots of spiders lived inside and out. I read Charlotte’s Web that summer. I loved Fern, Wilbur, and Charlotte; they’d become my friends. I liked the feeling of being hidden in there, no one could see me.

I spotted Charlotte in the middle of spinning her web. She scrambled up, then down in straight lines through the air. I watched as a flow of silk spread out in angles. I wondered how she knew what to do. A white mass of silk formed at the center and she rushed back and forth to the tiny blob. Would she write a message in the web? A fly landed. Zap! Trapped, it struggled for a while then it stayed there: frozen, a perfect meal for the spider later.

“You can tell that I wasn’t ever bored when I was your age, right… Claire?” My granddaughter sat slumped with her head on the table, sound asleep.



Jane Ann Tucker
The Memoirist

I'm a published author. GENRES: non-fiction & poetry PASSIONS: books, dogs,horses, playing pickle ball, hiking & knitting. ~ What hurts you blesses you ~ Rumi