The gifts of childhood

Today I will call my sister, and ask her if she remembers the soft giraffe toy we had. Neon green with yellow patches. Was it a key-chain?

Remember, it was our first sale. We went to an adult whom we didn’t think of as an adult, and we told her to please buy it. 5 Rupees only.

Whose is it, she asked us. We didn’t know.

It had been lying around. Maybe given to us by an aunt visiting from abroad, with cheap toys made in China and bought at 50% off elsewhere, reminders of people who liked us for three months in a year but not much for longer than that.

What will you do with the money, she wanted to know. We will donate all the money to kids who don’t have anything. There is this place where they stay. They go to school and pray and someone gives them clothes and maybe toys. I read about it in the paper.

She bought it and then we were off. We collected everything we didn’t like, had no use for, stopped playing with.

We took a plastic bag from the kitchen, and a pouch for our earnings. We went knocking on several doors. Just the building at first. The street next. Then two streets over. Until an old lady asked us if our parents knew where we were and offered to call home. We didn’t wait for her to buy anything from us, we ran back the way we came.

A week later, when the afternoon heat put everyone to sleep, I took out the pouch. Two hundred and fifty six rupees and some paise, all in coins. I walked to the post office and asked the man behind the counter how to send all this money to someone.

Do you know their address, he asked. Yes. I wrote it down. Yes. I know my address too. He counted the coins again. He wasn’t very quick and I stood on my toes the whole time, trying to peer in. Quick, before they wake up. Count faster.

After a month, I received a letter. Thank you, it said, in many big words most of which I did not know. They were happy. They told me they would buy school books and stationery. But I was upset. They called me Mrs.

I was eight and my sister was six. We hid that letter and we lost it too.

Editor’s Choice and Top Three this week!

This is what Rowan had to say:

I’ve often been accused of valuing construction over content. Fine. I value construction over content. I’d rather read a well-written essay about walking a dog than a poorly written one about saving that dog when it fell over a cliff and then later it went on to rescue five kids from a burning building. Of course, this essay has both solid construction and charming content, and they fit well together. You already know the content – right? you did read all three grids, right? – so I’m going to focus on the details of construction that made this a pick for me.

Three techniques really stand out in this essay: the hook, the dream-memory feel of the writing, and the way it all ties neatly back to both of those things at the end. I often say that your readers will remember the first and last paragraph of your writing the most, and this essay is a perfect example of that. Today I will call my sister, and ask her if she remembers the soft giraffe toy we had. (For you grammar mavens out there, the comma is optional in that sentence but I think it functions well to create a little breathing room, like the comma in the opening paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House.) Throughout the essay there is dialogue, which is handled without resort to quotation. This is a careful and deliberate choice to make the dialogue as much part of the story-memory as it can possibly be. Another option would have been to italicise the dialogue as well, but here the parts of the story that someone is saying are clearly and precisely flagged with language, and there’s no need for it. The final lines wrap the story back to what you thought it was going to be when you read that hook: lost and found. That’s the nature of memories, and of little kindnesses that peek out between the lines.


24 thoughts on “The gifts of childhood

  1. Your hook here – Today I will call my sister, and ask her if she remembers the soft giraffe toy we had. – is so good. It lets the reader know exactly how to anchor themself: there will be children, and objects, and something will happen to the objects. It also makes the very unique experience you’re about to relate tie in to a more universal one, asking our siblings to confirm our memories. And then you call back to it at the end of the piece. This is *exactly* what I always talk about when I say your readers will remember the beginning and end the most, so be super strong there.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This was wonderful. That first line drew me in, and then your last line tied the whole piece up so beautifully. It was such an emotional journey, without veering into the overly sweet. I loved the insertion of key details to highlight the value to you of the things you and your sister sold (“…reminders of people who liked us for three months in a year but not much for longer than that.” was especially pointed and struck a chord with me). This was good, tight writing, and a joy to read.

    Liked by 1 person

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