I have said repeatedly I have no memories of my childhood. I felt safe saying that. What I didn’t say was that I blocked out all feelings related to the death of my sister. This was how I “moved on.” Many did the same thing, not knowing that all kinds of other feelings are stuffed out of reach.
But slowly, unknown presences silently re-connected what has been torn apart. Perhaps then my shy soul sensed it was ready, and something shifted. Recently, memories of childhood have begun to appear without any effort on my part. Then in the places I visited in order to provoke memories, nothing emerged. This re-membering is not something I can make happen.
But there was one place I felt an urgency to return to as I had with my family of origin many times. This longing to return was unsettling and edgy.
After decades of staying away from where I felt at home, I returned to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains.
In my childhood years those who went to Gatlinburg were hikers. There was a gas station, a general story, and the Greystone Hotel, built like the grand hotels in the other national parks. At breakfast we would order and receive a box lunch. Hikers were in the mountains all day.
In these years Gatlinburg is teeming with people who come to shop, causing a massive daytime traffic jam. So I was out the motel door at 5 am and in the mountains before the traffic lights were turned on.
I drove up the Newfound Gap road just as the morning light was appearing. The road climbs from 2300 feet to 5600 feet by many hair pin turns. Each turn opened up a new wonder.
In one such turn a huge red-orange cliff of stone appeared in dawn’s first light; speckled white and black, there was dripping water everywhere, miniature falls, leapers into the air and splashers into pools below, yellow trout lilies, Spring Beauties, yellow buttercups, white lichen on black rock. This enormous cliff of color and dripping spring water and fragrances of stone and plant life was arresting.
I stopped at a pull off opposite the cliff of Beauty, walked over, and just stood there, transfixed at the wonder of it all.
Now I remembered the many times I had gotten out of the car with my dad, both of us quietly excited and captivated. I had the same little magnifying glass on a leather strap around my neck like him. We both looked through our magnifying glasses to see Beauty in all her tiny tenderness, resilient in arctic winds, yet so easily harmed by a careless gesture.
Those days our magnifying glasses were also our mirrors.