Thursday, March 3, 2011

Virtual Time Travel

It’s funny how some things can take you and throw you back in time as though you’ve entered a time warp. I’ve written before about how I think smells and sounds can do that but sometimes, it’s as simple as an email.

I had an email through Facebook from a friend I made when I was six years old in my very first year of Infant School (what we call Elementary School in the UK). It was in the days where I learned to read, using books from “The Village With Three Corners.” This was a series of books that they used to teach and encourage reading skills as well as other basic skills. The characters in the books were Roger Red Hat, Billy Blue Hat and Jemima Yellow Hat.

I remember the books. Once a child mastered basic reading skills, the books moved up to become a little more complicated with bigger words. I was a voracious reader. To this day, I remember my frustration of being in play school (Pre School to my American readers), holding a PB Bear book and wanting SO badly to know why PB was in bandages. The pictures told me that he was skiing and he fell but other characters were worried and trying to get him to eat something. I wanted to know more. I wasn’t satisfied with pictures. I wanted words.

So, when I did learn to read and those mysterious squiggles became meaningful words, I couldn’t be stopped. I moved quickly beyond The Village of Three Corners into the “Green Spark” series of books. I was the first in my class to do so. I’m not bragging. I don’t think I ever thought of that as an accomplishment. I always wanted to be reading my next book instead of worrying about why my classmates weren’t reading at the same pace as me. I was a junkie and books were my drug.

Yet I don’t just remember the books. I remember my classroom and sitting next to my friends. I remember the Christmas play and how our class was disappointed because Mrs. Herris’ class ALWAYS got to be the angels in the Nativity and got to sing “Away in a Manager” and just had to stand around in our normal clothes with a homemade hat and sing boring songs like “Once in Royal David’s City.”

I remember the exciting days of writing with pencil and having trouble with that pesky letter “Q”. I could do it, I just took my pencil off the paper in the wrong place and my teacher said it was wrong. We’d line up at the pencil sharpener in the mornings to make sure our writing implements were ready.

Then came the day when they let us get to use pens in class for the first time. We used Beryl pens. They were blue ink. They bled through the paper if you pressed too hard. The pen was red. The caps had a knob on top that we’d chew off absentmindedly. Some of the boys chewed it off on purpose just to get a new, unmarred pen.

They were the days where we collected erasers and swapped them. (We called the ‘rubbers’- it was before the U.S. translation of the word ‘rubber’ was even so much as a blip on my radar.). We had milk from little glass bottles that was room temperature. School lunches smelled like bread, spam and gravy. We didn’t actually eat bread, spam and gravy but to a young child, that’s how it smelled.

There are so many memories from those early years of my academic development that came rushing back when I got the email on Facebook. The email came from a friend named JoAnne. She was in most of my classes from the first year of infant school until my last year of school in the U.K. when I’d moved up to senior school. She wasn’t my best friend but she was a friend who was one of those rare people who are so familiar and part of your life that they feel like they’re supposed to be there. As a child, you take those for granted.

I went to her birthday parties. I remember her little brother. I remember her parents.
Yet because she wasn’t my best friend and, by the time I left England, we both moved in different circles, I lost touch with her after I moved. She became part of the landscape of my childhood without standing out as a significant part of it.

Yet, clearly she was. When I got her email, I was so excited and overjoyed because with the email came that string of memories. For a few brief moments, I was back in the classroom of Mrs. Simpkins. I sat at a desk that opened up to let me put my books and pens and pencils inside. It had an old inkwell that we no longer used since our ink was already in the pen but we used the inkwells to hold our mini pencil sharpeners and sometimes, we sharpened our pencils into the well. Thus, if you stuck your finger inside, it emerged black with the lead from many a sharpened pencil.

This memory as well as so many others rose again in my mind. The memories have been there, dormant for a while. They surfaced individually as something triggered them but never as a flood that became an almost time-travel experience.

I was back, for a time, in the territories of my youth. It is a fun and nostalgic place that I should visit more often. It was before the days where boys became more than smelly, spitty things to girls and getting to stay up late meant staying up to 9 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday. Those were uncomplicated days and in many a way, I miss them.

It’s nice that such a simple email from a long lost friend can be an experience. Not only does she bring back memories but she also brings forward the chance to reconnect with someone who’ve I thought of over the years but thought was lost to the passing of time.

I’m a firm believer that time travel does exist. It’s not physical and we can’t change anything but with a simple reconnection, we can be thrust back into the life we’ve lived before.

And I, for one, think that’s a magical thing.
Happy Friday and have a great weekend!

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