Rediscovering My Childhood in the Background of a Photo

Sean Cleghorn in a cast in 1981

The moment after this photo was snapped, my brother fell over backwards, walker and all, onto the floor.

He screamed with pain. Since his leg cast extended all the way up to the middle of his chest, I’m sure it dug into his back when he hit the thin kitchen carpet.

I used to look at this image and relive that day in the summer of 1981. I was seven, going on 70, and Sean was four. We were bored watching my mother race-walk lap after lap at the track around the high school football field. First we played King of the Hill on a giant mound of dirt until that got old, and then we began racing to the bottom of the stadium bleachers. When I got to the bottom, I found Sean on the ground under the bleachers, surrounded by a crowd of people. The crafty little cheater took the direct route and fell through the aluminum steps at the very top. Splat.

Poor Sean. I’m sure he was frightened.

As a child, I was racked with guilt over this accident.

I should have been watching him, taking better care to keep him safe. His cast stayed on for what seemed like eternity.

32 years later, I can look at this photo and see past the guilt. I see beyond Sean’s struggling little four-year-old face and find myself in the dining room behind him. I’m playing with the giant LEGO city my parents let us set up on the table. I fondly remember the avocado-colored refrigerator that moved with us from West Virginia to Florida, covered with report cards and school photos. There’s the “coupon holder” I made in second grade for Mother’s Day — the only time stapled paper plates make for priceless art. No, this photo isn’t just about Sean.

Hidden in the background of this picture are my favorite childhood moments.

My parents let us use every room of the house to create and invent, tell stories, and play make-believe. Our creativity came alive in the world we created within the confines of the kitchen, our “formal” dining room, and other spaces that had no real function in our family except for play.

Our family didn’t “entertain.”

Anything truly nice was usually destroyed by my two older brothers. Our house was filled with kids, either family or from the block. These rooms were for our world of play and torture. My brothers played dangerous games of indoor football. They also enjoyed dragging Sean and me across the shag carpeting, forcing our fingers onto the metal windowsills and giving us static electricity shocks. Psychopaths.

Under the window sat our giant stereo encased in a wooden box; turntable on one side and an eight-track player on the other. This tomb of music offered soundtracks to our childish theatre: Michael Jackson, Blondie, Donna Summer.

Sean and I reenacted scenes from Star Wars, The Dukes of Hazzard, and The Fox and The Hound. In those hours of play, we were geniuses of fiction and fantasy. We mixed our Han Solo and Luke Skywalker figures with our Matchbox cars, then moved them into our LEGO city where there were occasional visits from the members of KISS and Fonzie.

It was the most creative I’ve ever been.

I miss it. The innocence, creativity, freedom. It is lost to me in the harshness of adulthood. When I look at this picture, I wonder if Sean remembers. I wonder if he feels the same way.

By day, I fundraise at a small women's college in North Carolina for scholarships and academic programs. But when the sun goes down, I spin vinyl from 1960 in my living room for my soul. I'm a product of Generation X from Jacksonville, FL. When I listen to Aretha Franklin, I wonder if I was born in the wrong city, let alone the wrong generation. Some might say I collect nostalgic kitsch. I argue that I preserve fine art.

Be first to comment

Leave a Reply