A Memory of a Memory
by James Ross Kelly

At four, my parents’ divorce had moved my father and me from Rock Island, Illinois, south to the small Kansas town where I was born. My father had gained my custody in an era when men were generally not given custody of children. He accomplished this by getting my mother drunk just before court. His justification was that, in his absence, my mother had gone on a binge and left me alone in our apartment for almost two days. I have no memory of this. He had no apologies. My father was taking me to my grandmother’s house with my grandmother in his ’48 Ford. I had been excited about the house, and had a memory of it as glistening white.

Before all this, I had moved from Kansas and my grandmother’s house at two years old with my mother. We left on a train to join my father, who had just acquired a new factory job in Illinois. I remember the train ride, my mother’s dark blue dress, with white tiny spotted somethings in the printed material, her affable laughter, a tin bucket of fried chicken.

There had been domestic violence, but I remember none of it. I remember this trip back to Kansas clearly though, in my father’s 1948 Ford, with my Grandmother. I remember the expectation of this house I had lived in, but did not remember it exactly. In my mind, as I said, the house was glistening and white.

When we arrived back in Kansas, it was exactly as I thought it was, except—I remember being taken aback by this exception—the house was not the scintillating white I had painted in memory, but rather, it was a dull paint peeling gray.

PHOTO: (Left to right) Nellye, Gene, and James Kelly (c. 1951).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Ross Kelly lives in Northern California. He has been a journalist for Gannet, a travel book editor, and had a score of labor jobs — the in-between jobs you get from being an English major. Most recently, he retired as a writer-editor for the Forest Service, where he spent the better part of the last decade in Alaska. He started writing poetry in college, and after college continued and gave readings in the Pacific Northwest during the 1980s. His poems have appeared in Westwind Review, (Ashland, Oregon), Open Sky (Seattle), Siskiyou Journal (Ashland, Oregon), Don’t Read This (Ashland, Oregon), Table Rock Sentinel, (Medford, Oregon), Poetry Motel (Duluth, Minnesota), Poems for a Scorpio Moon & Others (Ashland, Oregon), The Red Gate & Other Poems, a handset letterpress chapbook published by Cowan & Tetley (1984, Vancouver, B.C.), Silver Birch Press (Los Angeles), so glad is my heart (Duluth, Minnesota), Ray’s Road Review (Tennessee), The Effects of Grace (Florida), and Fiction Attic. “A Memory of a Memory” is the prologue to a collection of stories with a working title of Caught up in the Air that is as yet unpublished.