77 people, from 5 different countries, began with the phrase "When I was a child," contributing to this collective list of early memories. Begin with the first line and read on to the last, or dip in and out willy-nilly. This word mosaic is divided into random sections to make it easier to read. We hope you enjoy it!
When I was a child I often snuck out of the house late at night so I could sleep for a while in my special cottonwood tree and watch the night sky; I was sent off to Bible camp every summer where I learned how to pretend to fit in by saying all the right words now and then; I loved to spend whole afternoons using my mother's outdoor clothesline as the structural form for my elaborate sculptures made of string, ribbon, rubber bands, old clothes, dandelions, wire, rope, leather, and anything pliable I could find in the garage. When I was a child I dug a big hole out by the backyard fence and held a solemn funeral to bury all the dumb dolls people kept giving me; I got a kick out of gluing a silver half dollar onto the sidewalk and then watching from the porch swing as people walking by the house tried to pick it up. When I was a child I escaped my mother's loud and angry moods by climbing into tall trees and hearing only the silence of the wind through the leaves; I always gave dead butterflies a proper burial; I spent a lot of time underwater in the ocean; I believed there was an underground palace beneath our driveway hill, accessible only from the dangerous gully next to it; I loved canned spaghetti. When I was a child I was neither seen nor heard; I thought anything was possible and so I tried to fly back to my real home, convinced I had been given to the wrong family; I had a great sense of humor; my grandfather was my best friend. When I was a child all I wanted to do was dance and every time the camera pointed at me that's just what I did.
When I was a child my rubber band airplane landed in my friend's hair and had to be cut out close to the scalp; I wrote a fake love letter to my brother from the girl next door and he paid me back by pouring warm water in my upturned ear as I slept. When I was a child, I used to stand glued to my mother's leg, face upturned to the counter above, hoping for a handout as she shook hot homemade donuts in a brown paper bag filled with powdered sugar. When I was a child so great was my sense of not belonging, I called myself "the girl from Planet X." When I was a child Wednesdays were our day off from school and I often woke up to the sound of the lawn mower, followed by the fragrance of newly cut grass, and a feeling of jubilation. When I was a child we had a dog named Chi Square because my father was a statistician; I once went on a penny hike: you toss a penny when you get to a corner to see which direction you should take. When I was a child I played jacks, hopscotch, and jump rope for hours at a time; I was never bored. When I was a child in the war we never left the house without our gas masks; I wasn't allowed to eat ice cream in the street; we built sandcastles on the beach for the tide to wash away.
When I was a child I used to write on walls.
When I was a child I loved a boy who didn't love me back; I sat in my sandbox, surrounded by grasshoppers; I read poetry under the shade of a tree; I had a recurring nightmare about a staircase that kept disintegrating as I climbed it to safety. When I was a child I loved everyone. When I was a child and zip codes were first issued we were afraid we would not remember ours, so we made up a song about it and danced all around the house gyrating with our new hula hoops and we never forgot our zip code. When I was a child I would sometimes touch a stranger's fur coat while my mother shopped in Marshall Field's; my underwear had the days of the week printed on them; I turned cupcakes upside down, ate the cake, and saved the frosting to eat last. When I was a child I had to choose between braces and a pony, and got neither; my flying dreams were so real that I wasn't impressed; I was careful not to swallow my gum; magic was everywhere. I made hollyhock dolls, and burdock furniture for a doll house under the lilacs; I found the chug-a-rum of frogs in a nearby pond the most soothing of lullabies; I picked flowers and made paper baskets for May Day and hung them on neighbors’ door knobs; I knew I could be anything I wanted to be.
When I was a child I learned to see the world through my parents' eyes before I learned that I had eyes of my own; on summer mornings when it was already 90 degrees, the milkman would let me take a handful of ice from the back of his truck; my recurring nightmares were of giant pigs in the basement and dinosaurs across the street. When I was a child I thought people who lived in houses had it better than those of us in apartments, but then I learned that what we had was better, we had community; I did not know from Possibility. When I was a child I played with my paper dolls all afternoon. When I was a child my sister and I used to fight over which one of us would get the cat to sleep on our bed overnight; I could sing the little Italian lullaby my grandfather taught me, even though I didn't know what the words meant; I read every one of the Oz book, most of them twice. When I was a child my best friend and I would plan our route for Halloween trick or treating, going over a map of our neighborhood's twisty and sometimes dead-end streets, like generals planning a military assault. When I was a child I would plant seeds and then keep digging them up to see how they were growing. When I was a child I spent hours playing "restaurant" with my older brother, and even now we still dream of owning an actual restaurant together some day.
When I was a child my skirt caught on the top of a slide and ripped off as I slid down; my aunt taught me to weave little rugs for my doll house; I felt peaceful and free underwater and wished I could stay there forever; I felt safe when I heard the eerie sound of the fog horn warning boats to stay away from Execution Rocks. When I was a child I loved getting up on Sunday mornings, walking two blocks to the Sugar Bowl candy store, buying the four New York City newspapers, carrying them home, getting back into my pajamas and, with my sister, climbing into my parents' bed where we'd all read the papers, and I'd get first choice of comics as my reward. When I was a child I realized that I'd be 55 in the year 2000, and that was so old! When I was a child I loved my sister and we laughed and went fishing,and kept each other good company; I would wish upon the first star I sighted; I read Old Yeller and Lad, A Dog, and all the dog stories I could find in the library. When I was a child, age 5, from no thirst for learning, I implored my parents to enroll me in first grade at the one-room, 8 grade, one-teacher school, a mile from our home, because there was no kindergarten, and all my older friends were starting. When I was a child the ice cream truck fulfilled all my longings; I loved the moments before being called in at dusk, on magical hot summer evenings, with lightning bugs dancing all around. When I was a child, although not religious, I felt blessed walking under the magnolia tree; I was trusting; I loved the sensation of beach air in my lungs.
When I was a child going to the library was my biggest treat; I was either reading or drawing every minute that I was not playing outside and sometimes I was reading or drawing when I was outside; I was just as solitary as I am now. When I was a child I would wake to the clip-clack of horses' hooves on our street — the milkman cometh; I would shovel coal into the building furnace; a sandwich would be mustard or ketchup and nothing else; my aunt gave me a Shirley Temple doll. When I was a child my sister and I would sneak out to the backyard early on summer mornings and skip around in a circle, barefoot and giggling. When I was a child I cast a shadow like my father's before me; I crossed an ocean I shouldn't have; a badminton racket was the perfect phantom guitar; fish were easier to befriend than rocks; my grandmother smelled of cheroots. When I was a child having to choose only one stuffed animal to take to bed caused me such heartbreak that I couldn't sleep; animals were my best friends; I got stomach aches whenever my mother left the house; my brother and I ate Milk-Bone dog biscuits in the middle of the night.
When I was a child I gorged myself on wild strawberries and broke out in hives — big, red, strawberry-shaped patches all over my body; I rode my bike 22 miles to the library where I spent hours dreaming of a different life; I imagined that my father was an airplane pilot and I looked up at the sky trying to discern his face in the clouds. When I was a child my mother could whistle so loudly, my sister and I could hear her all the way to the end of the Hane's field; I could skip, hop, climb tall trees, tap dance, and dance ballroom dances with my childhood dance partners; I could spot 4-leaf clovers, catch frogs and snakes, and run all the way to Aunt Jackie's house if I wanted to; out of her 40 grandchildren, I was Grandma's favorite. When I was a child I tried to write a book before I knew how to read; I thought that one day I would just wake up as an adult. When I was a child I created a small island universe in the backyard and populated each island with a different species I collected, such as earthworms, ladybugs, elder beetles, and pincher bugs. When I was a child I did my homework up in the tree house; the universe was the size of my red ball; I was afraid of nothing; I believed my rabbit went back to the forest because I didn't want to imagine him in the oven.
When I was a child I spent almost every weekend going to the beach with my mother and my sisters, while my dad played golf; I had curly, frizzy hair, wore glasses and braces, and kids made fun of me; books were my beautiful escape and I spent hours living inside their stories. When I was a child I had a Radio Flyer red wagon; I thought that if I wore PF Flyers sneakers I would be able to run faster; my mother pulled me on a sled for long walks through the snow. When I was a child I ate pink phlox blossoms because my cousin told me that the nectar would turn me into a beautiful fairy; I scared my cousin nearly to death by swinging a snake around and around my head. When I was a child I checked the temperature of the sizzling pancake griddle with my tongue; I waited hours for my mother to rescue me from a neighbor’s yard after I was stung by a bee; I showed him mine but he didn’t show me his; I'd sleep for hours in the shade of our backyard picnic table while the party carried on. When I was a child I got a Fudgsicle stuck to the roof of my mouth; I slept flat out in my bed so the witch in the closet wouldn't know I was there; I couldn't keep my socks up because my legs were so skinny; I wanted to be a nun in a leper colony.When I was a child the bayous would flood, sending ants spinning on lifeboat twigs down miniature white-water rapids in ditches.
When I was a child I'd go to the nearby river — a cold mountain river, swollen from rain — where I had found a quiet place that became my own private beach, known only to me; I climbed a hill to a spot where I could find wild strawberries. When I was a child, I wasn't. When I was a child I lied about how I broke my arm on the school playground; I wanted to be a third grade teacher; I didn't want to be dressed like my younger sister because we were not twins. When I was a child I had a leopard print corduroy jumper and red sandals buckles; I built a small house out of construction paper; I listened to bedtime stories and I got my own library card.When I was a child I climbed a rope ladder but never escaped; I knew you not, Anaphora. When I was a child everything I understood about honor came from professional wrestling; I always had to pee during hide and seek; I liked when the moon followed our car all the way home; I called grilled cheese "girl cheese." When I was a child I wore sneakers with Kermit the Frog's image on them and felt safe every time I touched his green nose; I had an imaginary family that lived in the wall and we had dinner together and there were tiny umbrellas in our drinks; I was paid to pick Japanese Beetles off grapes leaves (a penny per beetle); I was sent to my aunt’s for a summer and thought I could get home, like Dorothy, if I tapped my shoes together just right. When I was a child walking home from school an ambulance driver stopped and asked me directions to N. E. 21st Avenue, which was the street where I lived, and I ran all the way home to discover my mother was being carted off to the hospital.
When I was a child I was certain I had read every book worth reading in the elementary school library after seven years of active borrowing; hula hoops, tricycles and red rubber balls were prized possessions at recess. When I was a child I played a trick on my neighbors: I tied black thread to their door knockers, hid behind the hedges, pulled the thread a few times, and then ran away. When I was a child I used to wake up at 6 a.m. on weekends so I could enjoy the quiet; I'd go sledding with my brother for hours on end; I'd sleep in my mother's room during thunderstorms; I hid my tears. When I was a child I gathered pollywogs from a pond and put them in my basement, where they grew up to be frogs; I made magical concoctions, imagining that I was the famous woman scientist, Madame Curie. When I was a child I was more frightened of the beetles and spiders in the underground air raid shelter than of the bombs and artillery shells outside; my little brother was sometimes given an orange to eat, but my older brother and I could only watch because he was young enough to have a green ration book and we were not. When I was a child I was a good girl; my lips chapped raw and my mittens got wet and cold and then froze; I pushed everything under the bed to clean the bedroom.
When I was a child Coney Island was the place to be on hot summer days, and on really hot summer days we’d gather in the cool, dark, sandy space under the boardwalk waiting for the Good Humor man to walk by with his heavy insulated box of ice cream bars; a big family treat was going to Nathan’s for a hotdog and my dad always got what was called a barbecue sandwich, which had nothing at all to do with barbecue; I loved going to sleep-away camp where they let us kids do whatever we wanted for an hour each evening and I learned to fish. When I was a child I climbed sundry trees; I had a crush on Marilyn Monroe, Patty Duke, and Margaret Hamilton (who played the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz); I watched foreign movies on Sunday nights after my 10 relatives went to bed. When I was a child I cut my own hair twice — both times when my father was supposed to be watching me; I loved going to the dentist's office because of the cows he kept outside; I memorized a poem by Charles Towne, Around the Corner, and recited it to myself each morning; I spread lice to every single kid in my grade. When I was a child I was protected by crows and believed nothing could harm me; my friends and I would sit on the front stoop on Saturdays and wait for the mailman to bring us each a cookie; after a snow storm we slid down the streets by grabbing the rear bumper of a passing car; we made gun powder from a store-bought chemistry set. When I was a child I hid behind my mother's skirts and watched and listened; I had a crush on the TV character Circus Boy; I was forced to take ballet, tap dancing, and piano lessons — it never occurred to me that there were kids who wanted to take ballet, tap dancing, and piano lessons.
When I was a child I hunkered down on our lush lawn, searching for four-leaf clovers; I dreamed of becoming a writer and I wanted to be Italian; my friend and I took turns reading passages from Rich Man, Poor Man under the oak tree, and then were scolded by my mother who had read our lips through the window, because the book was "dirty." When I was a child I loved camping, even though sometimes I got poisson oak all over my body, once even so badly that my eyes wouldn’t open; I identified with the boy in The Red Balloon. When I was a child I tried to make perfume from lilac blossoms; I wore smocked dresses; I could play in the lake for hours; I learned to sail. When I was a child I knew everything. When I was a child the first movie I saw was Bambi; I had a playhouse that my dad built for me; I loved going to Grandma's house, and we would play games. When I was a child I spelled cricket as LIVE; I befriended strangers more unabashedly. When I was a child I wanted to be like Grizzly Adams so I would have the trust of all the forest creatures and always understand what they were saying; I was obsessed with the story of Robin Hood and wanted to be him, not Maid Marion, Robin Hood. When I was a child we taunted the cows in Mr. Miller's pasture until he let the bull out; my father seldom spoke; we were sometimes very very poor.
When I was a child I didn’t live in pain; I had nightmares about pots boiling over, sinks or bathtubs overflowing, and rains of oobleck; my brother and I had interests in common and things to talk about; I fantasized about living on an estate with an ocean beach, a lake, and a forest, never dreaming that I would one day do so as a national park ranger. When I was a child I was perpetually sniffly-nosed; climbing a tree was as natural to me as walking a sidewalk; I loved complicated "older" books, but I missed the color illustrations; Dad came home from the bakery with his clothes smelling like warm oatmeal bread. When I was a child I had my own bedroom, with pink floors, though that was not my choice; the neighborhood kids, and even kids from three blocks away, hung out on our front lawn talking, playing games, and feeling safe. When I was a child I wanted my mother to love me more; I thought my father was the best. When I was a child I knew all the words to every Debbie Gibson song; I never minded getting sent to my room; I loved how dark the classroom would become during a Florida storm; our driveway was an interstate for bikes and I ruled the road. When I was a child I thought if I slept on my back I could hear the "screeee" of falling bombs and catch them before they hit any of us. When I was a child my grandmother served Orange Crush soda in faceted Georgia Tumblers, and even though it dyed my tongue an alarming shade of orange I believed this was the best drink ever. When I was a child I lived on the grounds of a state mental hospital; the sound of a chain saw made me sad because it meant all the elm trees were being cut down; we had our own private phone line, which was unusual; I played with cap guns and liked the smell.
When I was a child, on a rainy afternoon, surrounded by old magazines, I discovered the joy of making paper cuttings, collages and paper doll clothes in all sorts of patterns and colors for my very best friends. When I was a child a whole fairy-tale world was found in my mother's books, especially when she told about the little girl Thumbelina saying Yes to the handsome prince, and all the flowers opened and out of each one came a little lady or a tiny lord. When I was a child I ate watercress sandwiches that were delivered to us by the Amish boy who lived down the road; I searched for, and worried about, the ghost in my grandmother's barn; I ran through the neighbor's field, flattening his wheat; I was proud of my "paint by numbers" artwork. When I was a child we used to visit Grandma and Grandpa in Delhi, New York and I packed all my nail polishes and Harlequin Romances to take along with me. When I was a child I loved the duality of pleasure and fear (of being caught) as I smoked cigarettes out my bedroom window. When I was a child the bees’ nest on the front porch was as big and frightening as Godzilla; it rained so hard the streets flooded and I walked barefoot, trying to catch worms with my toes; summer nights were lit up with thousands of fireflies; I lived in my body; my father played mariachi music on Sunday mornings. When I was a child I thought if I spoke very quickly then I was speaking Spanish, and if I spoke very slowly then it was French; every time I ran away from home my mother told me to come back by four o'clock and I always did; I had no sense of direction and no sense of humor; I avoided carbonated drinks because bubble scared me; I decided that my lucky number was six, for no special reason.
Thank you to all these wonderful contributors:
Archana Kapoor Nagpal
Barbara Kane Lewis
Christine L. Villa
Gary Edward Rith
Johannes S. H. Bjerg
Mary Carter Ginn
Mary Alice Peck
Saskya van Nouhuys
Sharon K. Yntema