First, before I forget, I have planned a Christmas extravaganza for those of you who are missing some Hoyt ebooks, including but not limited to 99c and free books. Today, Death of a musketeer is up for free.
We woke up too early to take older son to the airport, headed to spend Christmas with lovely fiance and her family. It’s his first Christmas away from us, but we’re not the primary family now, and we don’t expect them tied to our apron strings as they move on into their own family/circle.
Perhaps it was that, or perhaps I’m just maudlin, because it’s Christmas season and I miss long-dead relatives (maybe that’s why people used to tell ghost stories at Christmas?) and there’s no way to go back to the village of my childhood, except in my (obviously imperfect) memory.
The picture above is obviously not the village, but pretty close to the view of my classroom window in the 9th grade.
You see, we were a gifted class when the school was quite literally forbidden from grouping by ability (ah, revolutions.) They could have argued they didn’t. 7th grade, they grouped us by name. Eighth grade we magically found ourselves in a form composed to top students (took us about zero minutes to find out what the other such form was. Grades are posted in public by form. It wasn’t hard.)Keep in mind though they had a back up excuse. We were also ALL troublemakers of the “but I read a book where–” or “But that’s not Egyptian religion at all. You’re porting in assumptions from Christianity” (Yes, that was me.) Or “But the history of the Black Plague tells us.” Or even “But that’s not how evolution works.”
Still the school was obviously unsure about how they could pass that off, so they put us in weird places. In eighth grade we were first in a street level classroom in the old earl’s palace (and if you think that’s not too bad, consider all girl’s school, and windows opening to a busy sidewalk. They kept the shutters closed, and the lights on all the time.) and then, because I guess too conspicuous we were moved to a secret room (don’t ask. You had to go through the back of a closet and along the choir loft of the disused baroque chapel. In case you guys wonder at all the secret passageways in my books.) This is where we locked a freaking-out newby science teacher in the closet. NOT MY DOING, I SWEAR, though I was annoyed enough with her to approve. And then in the stables, ground floor, another all artificial light classroom. Also weird shape and cramped.) But they really outdid themselves with 9th grade. They put us in tiny room in new building. I don’t even know why tiny room was there. I later stayed in a similar room when I worked in a hotel in Germany. It was obviously used — in that case — for low paid staff, and it’s the type of room that Victorians gave maids. Don’t know why it was in a building from the sixties, unless it was force of habit.
Picture in your mind walking down a LONG attic crammed with broken desks, old globes and other decommissioned stuff. Also all the utilities for the school, so you’re ducking electrical stuff and ducts for water. At the very end, there’s a door. Open it.
There’s a room maybe 15 by 15 with a teacher’s desk up front, and a blackboard. To get to the teacher’s desk you have to walk sideways past desks crammed so closely anyone wishing to go to the bathroom had to either empty the whole row OR (what we usually did) walk atop people’s desks.
Ah, but they let us pick our desks. I was by the one window. (Which means I died in place rather than go to the bathroom.) But ah, the view. And because we were an afternoon form, with classes from 2 pm to 8, I got to see the lights in Porto come on. And because we were five stories up, I could see all the way to the river.
The road that ran along the river used to be, before highways, one of the routes to the airport. And since I was going to grow up, move to Denver, and be a writer, it was very cheering to look out at the route of escape.
Was it so bad then? Well, yes. For various reasons. In many ways, it was the best time I’d had up till then, and the place I felt most “normal” until adulthood. But it was still… well… my teens. Everyone’s teens are bad for different reasons.
The only nostalgia I have for those years is that view. Because I was stuck in that window seat and frankly, mostly, writing novels. I dreamed up the world of Darkships in that window seat, and another one (Winter Prince, yes, it’s coming) and drew plans for houses and spaceships, and wrote seven or eight 40k word (hey writing longhand is slow) novels that year. I miss the inventiveness and the way I could move wholly into my imaginary worlds and not come out. Yes, it was dysfunctional. But it was also sweet and relaxing.
There are things I miss about Porto, most of which probably are no longer there or not the way I remember them: I miss the old shops that everyone had forgotten, particularly the old book shops with forgotten corners where leather-bound books were priced at early 20th century prices. Also, lingerie stores with pre-war (WWI. No, I have no explanation, except the shop was the bottom floor of someone’s house, and they only opened when they felt like it. Which wasn’t often) silk lace stockings. And stores with hand made clay figurines. I wish, in retrospect, I’d bought a ton of those before it all became “caters to German and Scandinavian Tourists, Penises as people” stores.
I miss roasting chestnuts. I miss rainy days washing down the granite facades. I miss the art supply store I used to frequent. And I miss being young.
But mostly what I miss, the place that triggers tears is the village.
They’d object to my calling it a village, btw. In Portugal village or “land” (Terra) means an isolated village somewhere in the mountains. And by population I think we were a town. But the only way to convey “everyone knows everyone” and “we’ve been here generations” is to call it a village, and I’m a writer, I use shorthand.
The problem is the village I miss is the village in my mind. I miss walking up the street of tall buildings, just about two inches from the throughfare which reeked of Rome, past all the people I knew, and the little black dog who’d rush to the gates to be petted. (Nero. Of course. Portuguese name their dogs after less than good Roman Emperors and their children after good ones. Except Caligula. No one names their anything Caligula. Well, maybe a rooster if you’re going to chop him soon.)
I want to go in the side gate at grandma’s and walk around the water tank and through the gate, then the little path past grandad’s workshop, and into the patio that was my childhood everything — unexplored jungle, other world, palace — and into grandma’s kitchen. She’ll be frying doughnuts, of course, and I’ll sit and sample them while I tell her how things have been. Until she finishes and gets out the good teaset and the bought cookies which I started rating around high school. I want to sit and hear her talking of the village acquaintances (most of whom, like actors, I could never keep straight) and let the cats and dogs come to me. I want to walk down the backyard and jump the back wall, and go exploring in the woods with dad, like we did when I was very young. I want to go with my brother and watch the oxen draw water to water the crops next door.
I want just one more Christmas at grandma’s house, with all of us together, and the nativity where Joseph is missing because my cousin Natalia broke him before I was born so he was “out gathering wood” and the little Christmas tree because dad objected to cutting trees so we cut a branch, and grandad complaining about the vegetables or the cod fish, then going out the door to meet his cronies at the tavern, with grandma running after him to wipe the little bit of olive oil on his chin.
I want to put my shoe on the stove and wait for the doll or the crayons, or the book then spend the day enjoying it.
See, what I mean? I’m getting old and maudlin. The fact I can’t even visit the SIGHTS makes it worse.
But in a way I’m happy those memories are strong and tear-inducing. It’s good to have a place to be from, a place you can visit in your dreams.
I’d never have stayed in the village my whole life. I didn’t fit in that well. And my dreams drew me forth. And, no, I don’t expect it to remain preserved under glass for me to visit. (Though a business that builds VRs of people’s memories so they can visit those would probably make a killing. When the tech is there, of course.)
Lands and places belong not to people but to times. My great-grandmother’s village was completely different from mine, and her grandmother’s even more so. We live in space in layers, through time, and the places we love exist only in that slice of time.
I’m glad I had the time and place I had to grow up in, even the unpleasant parts in my teens, because it made me who I am. Who would I be otherwise? Who knows. But it wouldn’t be me. And I’ve made peace with me, cracks and all.
There are roots in that old village that no longer exists, places that still nurture me and feed me. Like the roots in that classroom, and the imaginary worlds I created then branch throughout all of my writing now.
Come with me past the broken furniture, the dodgy plumbing. Duck, or you’ll hit your head on that pipe. Come look out the window with me: See those lights in the distance? Many futures live there. And I’m going to write them all.
Come with me.