Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nameless things

As children, we were unaware of so many things that we lived in a strange paradise of invented names and things that, in our eyes, were full of mystery. Birds, insects and flowers that had no names other than those we chose to give them. In this way, each of us possessed our own beautiful and magical kingdom made up things as ephemeral as the baptism of a tree, or a creek, or a particular path through the woods. We used to say, "I swam in your creek"; "Look at your birds"; "This is my flower."

I had a special love for certain animals that in the opinion of many were quite disgusting. I remember a toad. It lived under the rocks near a little creek that was close to where I grew up. I called him Sam the Mindreader, and although I can't seem to remember why, the reasons behind any of these names for plants and animals were vague and intangible to begin with. And if we loved some of these, we also hated others, such as the thistles, pastel purple flowers born among the weedy fields that signaled the coming end of our summer vacation. When the purple flowers appeared we would squash them furiously with our heels or cut them from their roots.

One day someone killed Sam the Mindreader. I found him squashed and dried up. I stayed there for a long time just looking and listening to the creek running across the rocks. Suddenly I was left with a name in the emptiness, a name I didn't know what to do with. A strange feeling came over me then. I remember that I went away slowly; it wasn't sadness that I felt, but the emptiness of something that had fled, like a bird or a memory. I felt this loss to the point that for days I went around repeating to myself now and again "Sam the Mindreader" without understanding it well any longer.

Many times since I have felt the hollowness of a word that, in reality, never existed. But then, for the first time, I became aware of certain words or echoes that leave a hollow in our thoughts that neither hope nor memory can overcome.

12 comments:

Mary said...

You always get me thinking, Laura. "Sam the Mindreader"...for a toad. Probably equates to a mantis I named once, maybe when I was around 9 years old. I watched it for a few days hanging around the front of the house. I was a little frightened but intrigued by it and told my family and friends about "Maniac Mantis". A mantis is hardly a maniac...

Endment said...

What would we do without those/these fantastic memories?
A great post to stimulate thought on this gray day

Liza Lee Miller said...

You are such a wonderful writer, Laura. What a gift.

dguzman said...

Oh, I remember so many names for animals, plants... Monty (all praying mantids should be named Monty, except for the Maniac Mantis of course), Felix my turtle who ran away, Ferdinand my pepper plant. Your post really brings it all back, rolling into my consciousness like waves. I so admire your gift with words, Laura.

Poor Sam.

MojoMan said...

I guess some of us never grow up. I still find myself making up names - maybe for places in the woods where I like to stop and sit, or even a deer I was lucky to see more than once.

I, too, have a special toad in my childhood. It is on the fringe of my memory, but the image persists nearly 50 years later. I must have been about 5 or 6 and watched in horror as my playmate squished it under his foot. I learned an early lesson about the different kinds of people in the world that day.

Mary said...

Mojoman's key sentence struck a chord with me about the horror of watching his playmate squish a toad:

"I learned an early lesson about the different kinds of people in the world that day."

So true. So true!

Rabbits' Guy said...

That comment hit me too ... how little children learn some things about people that then get squished out of them when they grow up, in the interest of political correctness!

Nice post!

Rabbits' Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

The mind-reader's name
seemed hollow after his death -
just me, rambling.

KGMom said...

This is a very touching story.
And it is amazing how deeply we feel things when we are children--and how those feelings stay with us for a long time.

z-silverlight said...

mindless, heartless cruelty. For some zero to kill an innocent harmless creature.

nina said...

There seems to be an affection for toads, because I had one, too.
When I went away for a couple weeks to an overnight summer camp, I even received letters with his name as the return address!

Those bonds we form as children, when the real world has not yet affected our lives, are such strong, pure memories.