I remember sitting in the car behind my father’s seat for the 2 hour drive to Alumni day at the Trenton school for the Deaf. I am wearing a pale flowered shift made soft from afternoons of fluttering on the clothesline and I watch the anticipation in Mommy and Daddy’s hands as they talk of the day to come. In my mind, I can see our green and white Ford coming over the rise of freshly mowed fields to dozens of people waving and hugging us in the warm, summer sun and of watching my parents become the center of many attentions.
I can call to mind mothers with pretty lipstick and being fed bits of chicken, racing with a hard boiled egg on a spoon and spelling-out my name, letter by letter, with my little girl fingers, showing off to the delight and admiration of the adults.
I think back on the pride I felt when Daddy took us into the cool, dark halls of the school building, pointing out the all the trophies that he had won as an athlete. A small group gathered to watch him talk about the Championship game of 1942 when his team travelled 3 exhilarating days by bus to Jacksonville, Illinois.
His eyes becoming wet while telling us that the school from Mississippi refused to play on a court with Trenton’s two “Colored” boys. He puffed while up giving us a play by play of the last quarter when they battled point for point against the heavily favored hometown school, and he cried again telling us about how they came home to their cheering classmates who were all given the day off to celebrate. This was his house and we felt special to claim him as our own.
I have a memory of pollen scented air and running down a hill to throw my arms around my fathers waist from behind only to realize that it was not my father at all just an unrecognizable face wearing the same kind of khaki pants. At first the face looked surprised and then laughing, he pointed across a wide playground where my mother was sitting on blue blanket under some shady trees.
I think back on swinging just before dusk next to a boy wearing a dirty shirt and watching our feet pump up and down past the horizon and when it was almost dark, I remember following my mother as she carried my sleeping sister to the car. I have memorized, my parents signing hands flickering above the lights of the dashboard as they talked about the day and of me staring out at the night sky to keep an eye on the those three stars in a row which I still believe follow me for protection.
I remember all of us and these memories have become my Madeleine to call back every happiness of my little girl life. I don’t know if these remembrances were from one Alumni day or the best of a dozen days sifted into one endless, dreamy loop. All I know is that when we were there, the people around us became our mirrors; what we saw in their faces when they looked at us would become who we were.
I know that those small moments became bigger than any hurt or slight or feeling of inadequacy that Mommy and Daddy might have felt outside in the hearing world and that Alumni Day at The Trenton School for the Deaf sustained all of us. When I unwrap these memories one-by-one as I so often do around the holidays, my fingers tingle, I sigh a happy sign and my heart titters at the slow-motion perfection of it all. And then always, always these moments are followed by the single thought that I have such a lucky, lucky life.