I still hear you roar
On memory, and the tale of the dragon downtown
Hello! Happy Monday. Before I get to today’s essay, I want to handle a little newsletter business, as I’m running several giveaway promotions this week.
First! In honor of my friends at vintage college apparel maker Homefield Apparel finally acquiescing to my two years of brand-bullying and licensing my beloved Cincinnati Bearcats, I’m offering up (2) $25 Homefield gift cards—one to a randomly-selected current paying subscriber of the ACBN, and one randomly picked from any new subscribers between last Friday (the 21st) and this Friday (the 28th).
Second, this Friday, I’ll be rolling out the eighth edition of The Action CookBox, a prize package drawing (estimated value: over $100) that’ll go to one lucky paying subscriber. Details will be revealed on Friday, and the drawing will take place the following Friday. It’s good stuff!
If you’ve been on the fence about becoming a paying subscriber, now’s a great time to make the leap, as there’s now two chances to win something fun by doing so.
Now, on to today’s newsletter.
There’s a statue in downtown Louisville that used to roar. You have to trust me on this.
Okay. Fine. Technically speaking, it did not roar, though that’s not the kind of attention-hungry civic stunt I’d put past us as a city.
Rather, there’s a statue that I used to hear roar nearly every day.
It stands on a quiet block of West Chestnut Street, in a small park in the front of the Romano L. Mazzoli Federal Building. Its name is River Horse; cast in bronze, it depicts a winged horse with a fish’s tail emerging from the waves. It was designed by Barney Bright, a Louisville sculptor who did a handful of other prominent works around town before he passed away in 1997.
I did not know any of these details until I sat down to write this; all I knew was that the statue roared.
You see, when you’re driving east on Chestnut, especially in the low light of the early morning, it’s hard to tell exactly what the sculpture is. This is no fault of the artist, who surely didn’t conceive of the work to only be perceived by sleepy parents rushing their daughter to day care, but you get the audience you get and your work leaves your hands. Death of the artist, and so forth.
Our family’s morning routines are different each year, as our various school and work schedules shift, but there was one year when my daughter was around two years old where I handled her drop-off at a downtown day care each morning. We developed a nice routine—a well-defined selection of Disney princess songs she’d like to hear, a few running call-and-response bits, and of course, our morning roar.
She thought that statue was a dragon, and so every morning as we drove by it, she’d let out a tiny but mighty little roar. BWAAAAAAH.
I tell her this story now, just a few short years later, and she giggles like I’m making it up,1 but I swear to her that it happened. Every morning.
Parenthood messes with your perception of time in a lot of ways, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for how something could seem so recent and yet so distant at the same time. It’s not just the statue.
There’s the things we read. I read the board book of Llama Llama Red Pajama to my son so many times in the first two years of his life that I could recite the entire story from memory, something I did a few times when I needed to quell a public tantrum with the sound of something familiar. We haven’t read it in ages, and he scarcely remembers it at all. But I do.
There’s the thing they wore. We were flipping through old photos on my phone recently, and came across a picture of the children bundled up for one of their first true snowstorms. In it, my daughter is wearing a bright pink parka, one that puffs her up to fire-hydrant proportions and compliments her frost-reddened cheeks perfectly. “You loved that coat,” we remind her. She smiles at the idea, but not the memory.
The things they thought. The “dragon” wasn’t the only landmark on our drives. In one of my son’s downtown years, he was convinced—through some honestly quite rational inferences—that the University of Louisville’s basketball arena, the KFC Yum! Center, was actually a massive branch of the fast-food outlet itself, and referred to it as “the Big Chicken Nugget Store”, a phrase I still think about literally every time I drive down Interstate 64.
They friends they had. My son came out of a children’s event at our church this weekend to tell us he’d made a new friend, a boy his age named Alex. My wife and I had to suppress our mild disbelief at what he was saying before explaining to him that he and Alexander—as the other boy was known at the time—had been borderline-inseparable classmates when they were three years old. He didn’t remember.
None of these are terribly distant; heck, I probably have spices in the cabinet that predate some of these stories. To the children, though, they’re dispatches from a different world, history lessons that we swear they were a part of and they just have to take our word for it. Even though I understand how childhood memory-making works, it can be hard for me to resolve that these things so recent and so important could be lost to them.
I pine, while they just roll their eyes and move on. They’re big kids now.
I realize now that I did the same thing to my parents; even as I approach 40, there are still things my parents recall as if they were yesterday from my own childhood—books, songs, things I would say, places we would go—things that I don’t quite remember fully, if at all. I understand perfectly now why they’ve clung to those little bits and pieces of ephemera, because each phase, each moment comes and goes so quickly and you just grab whatever you can and hold tight to it forever.
I don’t wish to freeze my children in time, as tempting as it would be if that power existed. I know that they’re going to continue to grow and change every day, learning new things and forgetting others, that they’re going to be amazing adults who do great things and won’t carry with them every silly detail of their daily life when they were tiny. They can’t be burdened by that while they’re charging ahead to their futures.
That’s what I’m here for.
And I know that any time I pass by that statue, I’m going to hear it roar.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
To be fair: I do make a lot of stuff up.