I never told anyone what I did once a week in the fruit cellar. Not my parents, not my siblings, and, for sure, not my friends. Everyone already thought I was a strange kid. And there was no sense in offering up more evidence.
But I felt the call of history. So I surreptitiously made my way down the cellar steps to the backroom where Mason jars of peaches and applesauce and green beans lined the shelves. And there, I made my contribution to the annals of history by narrating my daily life.
My days seemed ordinary enough. But you never knew. Anne Frank didn’t know what was coming, either, when she wrote the first entry in her diary. And besides, my dad, who read and wrote history, had told me that diaries, even those of common folk, helped historians understand the times.
This is what I wanted to do—leave a trace of ordinary life in Flint, Michigan, during the 1960s.
Only I wanted to do it in a new way. Someday, I decided, someone would invent a machine, one that could scan sound waves that had once bounced off the walls.
So once a week, I sat on an upturned milkcrate and talked.
I told the wall about the kids who, hearing the jingle of bells on my brother’s ice cream push cart, surrounded it and stole ice cream. I explained that our family didn’t have a television, but that I loved to watch Henry Wrinkler play The Fonz on Happy Days while I babysat the six Jackson kids who lived above the Judd Road party store. I talked about the riots in Detroit and how folks in Flint were cleaning their guns, getting ready, just in case.
I described how much I wanted the new Skip-It toy that all the girls in my class brought to recess. And how sad it was my parents couldn’t afford one. And that maybe I could figure out how to make one of my own.
Of course, all these words are lost to history, which is probably good. I’m sure most of what I said was cringe-worthy.
Still, I’m glad I sat on that milkcrate and talked. The listening wall helped me organize my thoughts, consolidate my memory, move toward action, and ease my angst. All this help from the wall, and no one else was any the wiser.