Long bus rides, especially in the darkness of a winter morning, can't help but evoke thoughts and memories. Looking out a window, with frosted edges, at the world, the mind is sparked by a face, a little familiar; a scene, somehow new yet still remembered. This happened this morning on my ride in to work. It should be that the sun is up a little earlier, being well past the solstice, but we’ve had a lazy sun this year. It struggles, like the rest of us, to rise in the morning. The traffic had been terrible and my driver was doing a great job of finding new ways to get to old places. Thus I took a route I’ve seldom travelled.
Along one particularly long stretch of road we passed a large school and then an equally large sports field. Goal posts, one at either end, were the only thing that broke the bright white of the snow which covered the ground. My mind said, in a gentle whisper, ‘Rockets’. Suddenly, I was back.
Decades ago, in another century, I attended Elementary school in a small British Columbia town. Upon registering we were assigned to one of three teams: the Eagles; the Rockets or the Hawks. When it came to sports days or track meets, you were automatically a member of one of those three teams. Any ribbons you won would be counted towards the team total to determine which team was the one that took the day. I was a Rocket, my brother was an Eagle.
Traditionally the Eagles carried the day. Occasionally the Rockets. Almost never the Hawks. The bus may now have been driving through the most fantastic of landscapes, but I saw nothing. I was deep in memory. I can picture, still, the logos for each of the three teams. The jaunty angle at which the Rocket took off, red against a white background, was pleasing and, somehow, hopeful.
I remember being glad that I wasn’t a Hawk while being envious that my brother was an Eagle and desperately worrying that the other ‘Rockets’ would not notice that I never, ever, won at a sporting event. I know one teacher did notice, she was one of the teachers assigned to the Rockets. Once, I fumbled something so badly that I prevented another Rocket from winning what should have been a sure first place ribbon. Her face nearly exploded with anger. Whenever I hear that song, I can’t remember the name, that has the line ‘the rocket’s red glare’ I think of the look on her face that day.
Anyways. Counter to all expectations, including my own, I did win a ribbon once. I don’t remember if it was first or second or third. I do remember that it was green with gold printing. My guess is that was a ‘silver’ performance. Oddly, I remember nothing other than the ribbon in my hand. I don’t remember winning it, I don’t remember what it was for, I don’t remember pats on the back or an internal sense of accomplishment.
All I remember is the silly little ribbon.
I sat on the bus and struggled and struggled to remember. Those readers as old as I am know that when you are trying to remember that far back, there’s lots of debris to get out of the way. I pushed by my university days, moved the big, big, boxes that come with the high school years, and finally arrived at the hallways of elementary school. I could remember various teachers, how young they look now. I could remember the smell of the cloak room, I could remember the stage on which the Christmas pageant was performed. But I could not remember that moment of victory.
Oddly, I could find, amidst the rubble there in the dark cellar of memory, all sorts of memories of hurt and pain and embarrassment and loneliness. Exact memories. Memories that hadn’t been visited in a long time but were still, oddly, dusted and clean. Still waiting to be recalled. Still fresh. It surprised me how these seemed to lay in wait. But, where was the memory, and it must have been a good one, of the day I won the ribbon? I looked everywhere, but it wasn't there to be found. It hadn't been packaged and wrapped.
I wonder why it is that my mind is, and are any of you are the same, so quick with memories of shame but less agile with memories of other, prouder, moments. Moments, that like now, would cheer a winter day. Nearing work, I gave up on the search and closed my eyes. I pictured my hand, a smaller hand than the one I know now, holding that ribbon. A ribbon that looked so big and so clean. I could see the gold print but could not read the words on it. But, it didn’t matter.
I had the ribbon.
And that was enough.