An author feels compelled to visit a park he hasn’t been to in 45 years. He senses something critical to his past is hidden there.
It was July of 2007, and I was in massive fear. I had gone to a writer’s conference in Austin in June, and being there had stirred up something – I wasn’t sure what, but it felt really deep. I had been having acupuncture treatments weekly since May to try to break things free — it felt like something wanted to break through to the surface, and I was trying to help it along. Nightly, I would lay awake until very late, my legs shaking with fear.
I began to feel a pull toward Sycamore Park. My Dad’s Mom, who we called Mamaw, lived for many years on the East side of Fort Worth, near Texas Wesleyan College (now University). When I was eight years old, my parents put me on a bus after school was out for the summer, to go visit relatives in Fort Worth. I did that for a couple of years, and then stopped going for some reason. While I was staying with Mamaw that first year, I had a vague memory of her taking me to play miniature golf in Sycamore Park, but I hadn’t thought about it for many years. It had been the last night of my stay with her, before I went to visit my grandmother on Mom’s side, who lived over by the TCU campus. I didn’t remember the experience being much fun. It was in June, on a hot, muggy night, and I was playing miniature golf by myself. My grandmother stood outside the fence waiting for me. I didn’t remember much more.
I hadn’t thought about Sycamore Park in 45 years, much less gone there. Then suddenly one weekend, years later, I felt compelled to get in the car and drive to that park. As I drove out East Rosedale, my stomach started to knot up and I could feel my breathing getting faster, like I was running. I turned into the park, which was a lovely place with a lot of trees and a couple of ball fields. But it was no longer such a great place to hang out – the area had gone downhill in recent years. I made sure to go in the middle of the day. Was it unsafe in 1958, when I was last there? I pulled off to the right in a small parking lot, where if memory served the miniature golf course had been. Now it was just a vague open space under the trees.
I sat in the car for a moment, absorbing the sense of the place. Instinctively, I looked all around, but didn’t see anything or anyone unsafe. In the middle of the day, the park was completely deserted – which may in itself have been significant.
Finally I got out of the car, walked over to the open space, and discovered a small concrete pad, about where I remembered the ticket booth being located, where they kept the putters and balls. I stood on it, just looking out over the grassy space. I stood there for a long time. Nothing came to me. I started feeling uneasy and conspicuous, so I got in my car and drove home.
I went back to Sycamore Park every couple of days for about two weeks. There were now freeways that I could have used, but I went the old way – east on Berry Street, and turning north on Vaughn Boulevard, because that’s how we used to get to Mamaw’s house. Then, instead of ducking east around Texas Wesleyan, I turned west on Rosedale, and back into the park. I thought going that way might jog a memory, and I was willing to try anything I could to stir things up. I’d pull into the park, check my surroundings, then sit and look at the concrete pad and the open space of grass. Bits came back to me, almost like snapshots of the memory, only with smells and heat and feelings.
I grew up in Northwest New Mexico, and we didn’t have many bugs. When I was playing golf that night, I kept getting bitten by mosquitoes, my first experience of them. I don’t believe I had any repellant on, so they were just feeding freely. I would look down, swing at the putt, then look nervously at my surroundings. It was hot and muggy, and I felt sweaty and very uncomfortable. There was an odd, funky smell that I couldn’t identify. Strange people were hanging around the park, I began to remember. My grandmother leaned against her car, almost impatient for me to finish, although this was somehow her special gift to me. Her car – a mid 50s what? Oldsmobile, Buick? Probably not air conditioned. Then I finished the game, and the memory would run dry.
At the beginning of The Bourne Identity, the man is fished out of the sea with complete amnesia. He doesn’t remember who he is or any of his past. Yet he keeps getting glimpses, snapshot flashes – of a past he doesn’t remember and didn’t know existed. That’s how it felt while I was at Sycamore Park. I felt the night, the heat, the mosquitoes, the odd unsafe presence of the strange people and my grandmother. I sensed there was more.
As I drove back and forth, or sat at the park, I got other snippets of memories. There were an aunt and uncle in some way related to my grandmother, and we went to visit them several times – they lived somewhere in that area. They were very unhappy people – he was bedridden, and she was taking care of him. My grandmother planted a sycamore tree out behind her house – and called it my tree. Later I was to realize she did similar things for several of her grandkids, so I suspect that tree wasn’t just about me. She had a white cat named Callie that wandered serenely around her house. I remembered sleeping in the back bedroom at her house, and how it felt. Her bedroom was air conditioned, but the one I stayed in wasn’t. So she would open all the windows, and leave the back door open, with only the screen door latched. I could hear city noises in the distance, and for a boy who had grown up in a small town, this didn’t feel very safe. She had a huge back yard and it stretched into the dark night from the windows next to my bed.
On East Lancaster, we went one time and got hamburgers at a burger stand that sold them for 25 cents or something. She took me swimming several times to a public pool and sat next to the pool watching while I swam alone. Down the street from her house was a drug store where I would get a burger, fries and a milk shake for lunch, as I stayed in the house alone while she was at work. She took me a couple of times over on East Belknap to the office of Doctor R, whom she worked for as a nurse. He was an elderly and somewhat grumpy man, and his office felt unsafe, but I couldn’t pin down why. I remembered that Mamaw got huffy talking about my relatives on the West Side, especially my other grandmother (maternal) who I would stay with for a week after I left Mamaw’s. She managed somehow to let me know she didn’t like them very much, and thought they were snooty.
After a couple of weeks I stopped going to Sycamore Park for a while, but I sensed it might be time for another inner child exercise. Little Danny, the Fear Child, was terrified of something – and it had to do with miniature golf and that park. Terror? When did my feelings go from fear to terror?
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