The director of my writing group sent out some information from the book Painting Words by Rebecca McClanahan on ways to write setting. One of the practice exercises was to draw a map of a location that you remember well and holds many memories for you. I shared this exercise with my family Saturday night when we all congregate in the sun room, play games, and talk. My husband jumped on this idea immediately and started drawing the swimming pool where he spent every summer day of his childhood. The pool had a weird shape, the adults had their own pool, and the babies had theirs. Hopefully, some of the adults were watching the babies. I’m sure they were, but it was the 70’s. My daughter drew my parents’ most recent condo. I think that’s where she spent the most time with them. She remembers playing on the electronic piano and my Mom teaching her to sew. My son drew a picture of the warehouse where we spent hundreds of hours from August to March this year building robots. I’m sure he is remembering how he and his team worked out problems and how one of the older high schoolers took him under his wing and showed him some tricks of the trade. These were treasure maps.
I created a map of an Italian restaurant where I had my first job. I chose that location because it was such a carefree time. I think that’s the same reason why my husband selected his location-carefree and lifelong friends. The people I worked with were actors, artists, and musicians. There was constant banter and drama. I tell my kids the story of how I dropped a whole plate of spaghetti on a customer’s lap. That was the first time in my life where I was so freaked out my ears rang and my peripheral vision disappeared. The pizza makers taught me how to hit the earpiece of an an old fashioned phone so it popped up into your hand when you answered it. We made these breadsticks out of handmade dough that sat in plastic containers on top of the pizza ovens. They were hard to resist when they were warm right from the oven. All of the servers would have their own glasses on a shelf right by the pizza makers where we would place our tips. I’ll never forget putting my first five dollar bill in there. The people that worked there were like family and did not hesitate to say exactley what was on their minds. Someone said to me, “Cara looks so nice, but then she opens her mouth.” I think they were referring to the fact that my education into this different world included a lesson in swearing. I excelled in this. Another comment was, “Some day you’re going to wake up and be 35 years old.” I was 19 at the time and not sure what this person meant. And then, when I turned 35 I started to understand. A friend of mine and I worked in the kitchen one summer where the temperature went up to 115 degrees several times. We chose to wear tube tops one night under our aprons. Makes you never want to eat out again doesn’t it?
There’s so much more I could tell you. But this goes to prove what the author Tim O’Brien pointed out about location and time. “It’s not the amount of time you spend in a place, it’s the intensity of the time.” When I was writing about the hours we recently spent at the warehouse, I choked up. It was an intense time for my son and it abruptly ended. He is fortunate because he is just starting his robotics career, but for some of the seniors, they haven’t had a chance to relish or anticipate how they will be leaving this location and intense time forever. I guess in some ways we can’t really anticipate when we will leave an intense time or know that it will be ingrained in us forever. It makes me wonder if what we consider less intense times are only defined that way because we aren’t paying attention or we’ve forgotten how to live in the moment. I think I need to draw a map of this house and get to work writing all of the memories. It will be another fine treasure map.