Experiment: Grandpa’s Trophy Room

Our instructions in class last night were to do a free write about a place or experience or item from our childhoods that was somehow powerful or incredibly important to us.  Basically doing a brief bit of non-fiction memory writing.  Then, Part Two of the experiment was to go back to the same event or situation, but this time write about it as viewed through the eyes of someone who wasn’t there or who would’ve viewed the situation differently then we did.  An interesting exercise in using memory as a seedbed for creating fictional scenarios.

BearRugHeadOpenBigNon-fiction Memory-based Free Write:

“Grandpa’s Trophy Room (with Mary)”

It was like being given the key to a magic kingdom. Entry into a dark world of bear rugs, deer heads, gun cabinets, hunting photos, and dust.  My childhood friend, Mary, and I lived for those days when we were handed the key on the large wooden key ring shaped like a fishing bobber.

The bears were the islands—the cold speckled linoleum, the lava.  “Don’t step on the lava!”  as we jumped from island to island.  Grandma always made us take our shoes off before we could play our hot lava game.  Only stocking feet were allowed on the pelts.  I can remember the feel of the stiff fur through our cotton socks, feeling much like dry grass to bare feet.  The socks had the added bonus of allowing us to skate/glide across the lava/linoleum.

Those were some of the best days at Grandma’s house.  When she gave us two little girls the key to the trophy room and allowed us uninterrupted time to give free reign to our imaginations.

Fictionalized Free Write of the Same Room:

“Grandpa’s Trophy Room (with Jody)”

This time when I went to visit Grandma, I brought my next door neighbor, Jody, with me.  I was thrilled to share my magical place with my friend.  As I opened the door to my personal cave of wonders, Jody gasped and stepped back away from the doorway.

“It’s okay, Jody.  I’ll turn on the light.”

Barely a whisper.  “Are they … are they … dead?”

“Yes, they’re dead.  They can’t hurt you.  Come on in.  It’s okay.  Really.”

I knew that creepy feeling of sensing the glass marble eyes following you around the room.  But it became clear Jody wasn’t worried about the animals possibly hurting her.

Still whispering, “Who killed them?  How did they die?”

Were those tears in her eyes?  She quietly took my offered hand and together we crossed the threshold into a world from her nightmares.  Jody stopped by the nearest deer head and lightly lay her hand on the softness of its neck just under the chin.

“It’s so … it’s so beautiful.”

She began to weep.  To cry as only a heartbroken six-year-old girl can cry.  Sobs coming from deep within her soul.

I was confused.  Then, all at once, I was shattered.  How had I—the overly sensitive child who cried over the lobsters in the tank at the gourmet grocery store—how had I become immune to the reality of death that was everywhere in the trophy room?  Coming into the room cold like she did, Jody had instantly seen what my jaded eight-year-old eyes had ceased to see.

At that moment, I knew I could never marry a hunter.  My own children would not lose their gentle sensitivities.  Whether I knew the thought as actually being marriage-related at the time is unclear, but I had the definite sense that I would not knowingly or willingly choose the hunter’s life for my future.  Whatever that future might be.

Jody never fully recovered from her initial horror of the trophy room.  She was convinced now that my silly playful grandfather was a mass murderer on par with Jack the Ripper.  A mad man hiding in plain sight in suburbia.  A den of horrors in his basement.  He even had furniture and decorative objects made from appendages of his victims, a bit like the skin suit in Silence of the Lambs. My grandfather had manufactured a gruesome cabinet of decapitated wonders.

I still played the hot lava game with Mary for a couple more years after the true nature of the trophy room was revealed that day with Jody.  But much of the magic was gone.  Now instead of losing myself in the world of pure imagination, I became a bit more adept at the practices of denial.  And some mild dissociation.  When you’re the only child in a family of heavily armed hunters, you tend to keep your sensitivities to yourself.  Survival—both physical and social—is an important instinct in the offspring of the human animal.

[FYI: The change of heart I experienced in the second piece was actually true, but taking Jody to the basement was fiction and not the cause of my inward change.]