Retrospective 9: 1971 — Rock Climbing

The year nothing happened. Must be, right? I can’t remember much. I was in Switzerland. We went skiing in the Alps in the winter, and swimming in the lake in the summer. We went camping. We visited Mum’s friends. We traveled too. I forgot to mention the traveling. As part of Dad’s job, he was sent off to conferences all over Europe, and once in the Bahamas, so by the time I was eight I had been to many countries in Europe. We often took the van, a green “RV” that technically slept only four: two adults in a cramped bed converted from a table/bench combo, and two tiny kids in an overhead bunk that jutted over the driver’s seat. But Dad added two more “bunks” on either side of the van, one over the table/bed and another over the sink and stove, and Mum made colorful curtains, and we were off.

It was fun. We stopped at beaches and museums. Rachel’s flipflops got stuck to melting tarmacadam in a big square in Italy, and Dad captured it on old film. We had little folding chairs with our names on the back in black permanent marker, and we slid down big haystacks in a farmer’s sunny field till we were breathless and tired, and then sat in our chairs with our feet dangling in the cool water of a little stream. It was all lovely, though there must have been days when we were tired and grumpy and howled in the rain outside while Mum cooked on the miniature stovetop in the van. Still, I remember those days as joyful.

There was also this, a memory that haunts me, that is real or not, I don’t know. Sometimes I dream of her falling through the air, the flash of her red shoes in the gray air. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it happened or not. The truth is, I remember it, and it follows me.

One day, a year or so ago, Dad asked me, “Do you know why I have a picture of a rock in my photo files? Why would I take that picture? I’ve asked everyone and no one knows.” He’d been scanning old pictures into the computer, and he pulled up the picture in question. I recognized it instantly. “That’s the rock outside the canteen at CERN,” I said. “We used to play on it all the time.”

He knew, as soon as I’d mentioned it, what rock it was. “Yes,” he said. “Of course. I’d forgotten all about that rock.”

I can never forget it. It’s attached to my memories of CERN*, of Dad’s office, and the big underground rooms, and the huge computers, and all the mysterious experiments I sensed but didn’t understand. At lunch we would eat in the canteen, and sometimes we’d have sausages, which I hated — the ghastly bits of gristle sticking to the back of my throat, making me gag, and perhaps the catalyst for my eventual vegetarianism — and then we’d go outside and play on the rock. We’d climb to the top, and look out into the sunshine, and feel on top of the world.

Nothing happened that year.


*There’s a big article in this month’s National Geographic on CERN. My ex-husband dropped it by for me to take to Dad. “It’s probably all changed,” Dad said, a little sadly. “I probably wouldn’t recognize it any more.”

I just hope the rock is still there.

One response to “Retrospective 9: 1971 — Rock Climbing

  1. (o) thank god for years when nothing happens.

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