The Lions of My Youth

ImageOver the recent holiday weekend, I went back to Connecticut to see my parents. The occasion was to hang out with my dad as he convalesced from knee replacement surgery (and to provide a distraction for my mother, who is not used to nursing duties). But I also hoped to find some things in boxes in the basement: a poem I wrote about my 8th grade science teacher, an interview with a Holocaust survivor. I write about these documents in essays that will most likely be in my thesis, and so I hoped to locate them: you can try to remember your bad poetry, but nothing beats the real thing.

I didn’t find either document, but I did find some other things: my kindergarten report card, a 1995 Year in Cartoons magazine (the Internet changes everything!), and this photo, in a square card, the kind kids get when they have their photo taken with Santa at the mall.

“Is that a lion?!” my mother asked when I showed it to her. (Michelle, Rachel and I conducted some highly scientific research – we typed “baby lions” into Google and compared those images with “baby tigers” – and so I can say yes, yes it is). “Where were you?” she asked.

None of us could figure it out – other than the official-looking paw print, there was no writing on the card or the back of the Polaroid. It looks like someone’s backyard, but fancy zoo-themed birthday parties seem like something my parents would remember. Was the picture even taken in North Dakota (where we were living at the time)? No clue.

So we just laughed, and I packed it into my suitcase to take back to Bellingham. But I haven’t put the questions out of my head. I’ve been thinking about memory, about the stories we construct, and how even when there’s no clear story to tell, that can become a story. I love to think about the possibilities with this photo: that wild cats were unremarkable or I was that unsupervised or my parents assumed they’d remember beyond the need for captions. I could make something up, but I like the honest unknowing better.

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3 Responses to The Lions of My Youth

  1. What an amazing picture, and even more amazing that no one remembers such an event!

  2. leemo1984 says:

    I was nodding in silent understanding when I read that second-to-last sentence about “remember[ing] beyond the need for captions.” I’m the worst about that, and it’s sad. It’s sad that we experience something, perhaps even coming away with pictures, and we think it’s so outstanding that we’ll never forget it. We take no note of it, thinking “I’ll never forget this place and these people and this activity,” but then we forget! This is one reason I try really hard to keep a journal!!

  3. brownc67 says:

    LeAnne, you already know this, but I just adore this picture so much. I have a picture of myself, probably around a similar age, standing in the water at the beach, and it seems like such a great moment, but I don’t remember it at all. It makes me wonder what 8 year old me was thinking about, standing in front of the pacific ocean. I’m sort of looking back at the camera and I wonder if it was my mom or dad taking the picture. I have pretty adorable ruffle bottom shorts on that I don’t remember at all. Seems like such a shame that I don’t remember any of those things, but in a way, like you, I like not remembering/not knowing, too, instead of trying to construct an explanation.

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