What I remember - Pt. 1 / by Jerald Pierce

I started writing these mostly because I have an awful memory (reiterated below), so I could have at least some record of things that happened in my childhood as I remember them. But it also serves as a way to force myself to write for fun more than I usually do. No idea how regular this will be. But here’s what I remember:

My memory is awful. I can’t tell if it’s a full memory problem or that I forget short term things so often that nothing really get committed to long term memory. I can see someone’s face, speak with them, be introduced to them and walk away and immediately have forgotten their name and what they were wearing.

My coworker and I always joked about it because she would ask if I had seen or spoken to a certain client and I would have no idea if it was the person she was talking about. She’d describe their clothes and I’d stare blankly back at her. It’s actually pretty awful and embarrassing at times. But the point here is that I’m going to try to remember some things from my childhood. I know I have some memories in there, but who knows what they are.

My earliest memories are fuzzy. I know I moved to Indianapolis from Cleveland when I was three (though, now, trying to remember, maybe it was four). My mother and I moved to live with my grandparents while she went to law school. It actually worked out really well. I never remember a time where it felt like she wasn’t around or she was ignoring me for her studies. Which is spectacular considering how needy I was as a child.

I remember these rolling footrests they had in the law school common area where my mother would study. I was magically endlessly entertained by those dirty little boxes as they sailed me across the quiet floor. How did no one kick me (us) out? Maybe they did and I don’t remember, but I know I had a blast. I also remember her taking me into one of her classrooms once. 

I wonder how that was for her. Leaving a career to go to law school while she had me to take care of. I’ve never asked her why she made that decision, though I’ve gotten the feeling on our drive out to my graduate degree adventure that her decision was as passion following as mine is. I wonder if she regrets it. Now that she sees her friends from her past life retiring and starting their second careers while she’s a bit stuck. Is this where she saw herself when she went to law school. I sit here imagining myself as a renowned theatre critic somewhere down the line. What was she sitting in law school imagining? I should ask. 

She got a job offer once. A job that would take her out of town more often. It would have been a big shift in career. She asked me if I’d be ok with it. I don’t know how old I was but I remember it being in the car. Perhaps so we didn’t have to see each others faces. Our family doesn’t do well with honesty and emotion. I’m still ashamed that my first thought was a selfish one: If she travels more often, that means I can stay up and watch tv in her bed! I still said she shouldn’t do it. I wanted her around.

So much of my life is defined by her decision to leave Cleveland. I would have gone to different schools, had different friends, experiences, thoughts. I get lost thinking about alternate realities. The “what ifs” of the decisions we make. How different would I be? Would I recognize the me that grew up in Cleveland with a mother who worked as a civil engineer her whole life? There’s no way to know and that’s annoying.

But that alternate me wouldn’t have gotten to spend as much time with my grandparents as I did. That I’m sure of. My grandfather especially who acted as my de facto father. He led by example and was a pillar of the community and of kindness and insane work ethic that I can never hope to live up to. I’ve only seen him mad once. It was terrifying. I don’t remember exactly what I said or did, but it was said in anger toward my mother and he hit me. I know it wasn’t his full strength, but the unexpected terror of the moment sent me to the ground. No one loved harder than that man. But it’s his easy kindness that leaves the lasting impression among anyone who knew him. No friend was ever left wanting. If you need some cash, he’s got you. If you need a place to spend thanksgiving, the table is already set for you. If you knew Dr. Raymond Pierce, you were a member of his family.

I should have paid more attention during his last few years. It was just too hard to watch the man that raised me whither away. Cancer is a bitch. I’m glad Kaily was around to collect stories and memories from both grandparents. Someone needs to remember, because I pretty obviously won’t. 

The most chilling thing to this day about my grandfather getting cancer? The folder we later found on his computer desk. The same desk he would sit at for hours researching god knows what for the next conference that he would whisk us all away to so he could give a speech and we could enjoy the weather. The same desk surrounded by manila file folders filed to bursting with medical jargon overlapping his distinctive surgeon script. On that desk laid one particular full folder, held together by one of the many rubber bands he religiously kept on his wrist. In his unmistakable, steady hand writing, he wrote: “Colon Cancer”.

It’s hard to think about his death without feeling like the time we spent with him while he was sick or immobile is starting to outweigh the memories of him alive. My memory seems to revel in that fear of forgetting the healthy him. I don’t want to forget the Papa who could bar-b-cue the perfect rack of ribs. No, you don’t understand what I mean. The man made ribs that quite literally fell off the bone. Screw using your teeth, you could hold the bone and use two fingers to just slide the meat right off the end. The secret? A patience that none of the rest of us have. He’d come home from church and immediately start cooking. On Sundays, that is. He went to church every day, but Sunday was the day he’d cook for the family (and whoever rung the doorbell to say hello).

I don’t want to forget all the times he’d drive me places or pick me up because my mom was in school or at work and couldn’t do it. Pick me up from school and drive me all the way downtown to my swim practice. Did I thank him? Dear god I hope so. Even if I did, I was never thankful enough, that’s for sure. He was more supportive than I ever could have hoped for. I wish he was still around. Just one more time I want to hear him say “hey, big boy J!” I want to make him proud and every step I take in my career is to make him proud. I don’t consider myself particularly religious anymore, but I do like to hope he’s watching me and still cheering me on.

My family was my life growing up more than I had realized before that point. I wasn’t good at making friends. That’s a lie, I made friends easily. I was awful at keeping them. But he and my grandmother and my mother were there for me through a lot of shit and I don’t appreciate them nearly enough. 

Focus back on my childhood, though. I still can’t believe that I spent the entirety of kindergarten trying to learn the name “Ms. Vogelgesang” (sp? pronounced VOH-gul-gee-sang) and looking forward to new kids having to try to learn it only for her to get married the summer after she had us and changed her named to Mrs. Ganser. Never has a kindergarten class felt so betrayed. 

Park Tudor was a weird stage in my life. It’s honestly pretty surreal, to the point that I have a deep need to go back and walk around the school to make sure that place was real. Like, did I really get into the school because I tattled on the kid next to me who tried to cheat? Ok, two blatantly weird things about that memory: 1) I’m pretty sure the kid next to me was Terrence and he still got in; 2) Why were they giving an entrance exam to children to get into kindergarten?

Which was only the beginning of that weird year. I don’t remember much about that kindergarten classroom, but I distinctly remember three things: nap time, the wall, and line leaders. At nap time we would listen to tikitikitembonosarembocherrycherryroochipipberrypimbo (sp? ha) falling down a well. It was my favorite nap time story. That kid kept falling down a well and someone would run to get help and it would take forever because they had to say TTTNRCCRPP’s full name when saying that he had fallen down a well. I couldn’t tell you anything else that happens in the story. Does he die because help takes so long? No, cause he falls multiple times (it’s like the boy who cried wolf setup). But I feel like the twist at the end was that the other kid falls down the well and his name is much shorter and that’s better for some reason? Thinking back, why didn’t the people listening just cut the kid off after Tikitiki. “Ok, I know who you’re talking about, don’t say the full name. What did he do?”

The wall was a big dividing wall that was right outside our kindergarten classroom. When we’d go outside to play, they’d have to make sure no one jumped off of it. That was never my goal. My fondness of the wall came from when some of the older kids (I think 3rd grade) would come and read us stories. We had reading buddies. They would bring a book and we’d go sit somewhere on the playground while they read to us. Usually on that wall. That was a fantastic program idea looking back. I hope they still do that. It was really nice to have an older kid come spend time with us and read us stories and just have that experience one on one.

They tore the wall down while we were in kindergarten. We all got a piece. We were a pretty cheap disposal service. I have no idea where that piece of wall is now. With any luck, it got thrown away long ago.

I’m surprised I remember so much from kindergarten. I wonder what Sam Johnson is up to these days. The one kid I considered a friend back then and through most of grade school. 

I couldn’t even pretend to tell you who my first or second grade teachers were. I want to say Mrs. White was one, but I also think she was the teacher of the other kindergarten class. I do remember that our kindergarten rooms were at the far end of the building right by one of the entrances. The first grade classrooms were just up the hall a bit but still kind of disconnected from the rest of the grades. 

Second and third grade blend together in my mind. Second grade was the start of the major construction on the building. They were completely redoing the classrooms, building setup, playground and courtyard. It was a major overhaul. They worked all day. I had headaches a lot and I assumed it was because of the noise. It wasn’t. My eyes hurt because I needed glasses. So the era of huge nerd glasses was born.

It was around second and third grade that I tried to get into boy scouts. I never really felt like I belonged. It seemed like a father/son activity for everyone and I, being an easily embarrassed child, shooed my mother away. We also had to sell popcorn which, let’s be honest, is nowhere near as good as the cookies the girl scouts got to sell. I always joke that I left the boy scouts as soon as they gave me my pocket knife (which we all got so we could whittle box car racers). While true that I did leave right after getting it, it’s not for the implied reason of me just wanting a knife. It was the loneliest I ever felt. Watching fathers and sons work on these things and I had no one. It sucked so I left and never went back. My mother, while constantly pressuring me to do activities and sports, never made me go back. I think she understood.

I also was on the chess club. And maybe a before school or after school game club? These are some of the memories I have trouble attributing to an age or grade. I know I was in the chess club like a nerd and I know there was a club where we played Risk. I also know I did after school where we played the recorder. And I know I made peanut butter and jelly for the younger kids one year. I just can’t remember when those were.