Writing Prompt Wednesday: Childhood Memories

Fiction Reader Lauren Garretson wrote this week’s writing prompt, and Poetry Reader Makensi Ceriani wrote the sample response. Read on for some writing inspiration.

Writing Prompt: Spend about 10 minutes making a list of 10 cars that you remember from childhood. Try to include physical descriptions, names, etc.

After you have your list, pick one car and free write. Possibilities include a poem, a short story, or a personal essay.

***

I:

  1. Red Explorer, most likely Ford, the only brand my father trusts. He has full say on that at least. Big, traveled often. Ding in the passenger side door and right side door, couldn’t open one for a few weeks but I can’t remember which.
  2. Gold white SUV, also ford, even bigger. We were children, too small to care about leg room. I’m sure there was plenty. Too big I think.
  3. Gray Ford Tempo, my first car. We bought it off the nephew of a woman who died. I think we made the deal before she died, but only because we knew she would. I hit a tree with the side mirror, tried to place it back in approximation. My father found out driving to work and I made my mom get in between us. Duct taped for weeks, with a muffler also out.
  4. Red “sporty” car, I don’t pay attention to logos or types that well. No automatic locks. None of the small cars are new enough for that.
  5. White small car, locks didn’t work at all but it ran good.
  6. Cream PT Cruiser with a black soft top, my mother’s favorite. She loved the wind in her hair, back when real estate was good. I have not gone in order of purchase. It got a flat tire like clockwork and my father cursed it just as often. Something went, I forget what, and then something else, and eventually it sat in the driveway for years. Weeds tangling around the wheels and cobwebs formed inside.
  7. Blue and gray Ford Bronco, hard top, one of my father’s cars. He’s only had two in my childhood. He’s not a mechanic, but handy. This was a dream truck. I always made sure to buckle up before we moved. I’m slower with that in small cars; I feel closer to the ground.
  8. Red and white Ford truck, honestly I should know the make but it was always just Dad’s truck. Full of blue industrial rags and busch beer cans. Mint tic-tacs and Propel before Gatorade became popular. I recently found out he gave up tic-tacs. Cab usually silent, I liked looking out windows. Though I remember when I was younger, and we were all in the car, I knew every word to “American Pie” and we would all sing along.
  9. I think the driveway deserves equal weight here, it’s seen more cars than cats born under the porch. This is a lie, but the essence of truth is in it. Steep and graveled, pitted where the rocks wore out, surrounded by trees and across a field where a horse named Duchess lived for most of my childhood. The horse recently died.
  10. Gold 2001 Toyota. My second car. Cigarette burns on the interior but it runs good. I have it now, but I wouldn’t think childhood ends until I crash it. I need a transformative moment, a figurative coming out of the woods.

 

II:

There’s no one distinct memory of any particular car, I’ve been in and out of too many for too different of reasons. I’m used to long car rides, my mom used to drive straight from Pennsylvania to Florida every other year. She would switch off with her sister, the only one who didn’t mind the endless stretch of road. I used to be unable to drive long distances, an hour and I would start to fall asleep at the wheel, legs stiff and neck anxious-tight. Now I’ve driven eight hour stretches. Repetition is key I’ve learned. A cup of coffee is also key. Something to chew on, just a family trait. Licorice or crackers or someone’s ear. Savor it. I prefer to be driven, I’m more awake when I don’t have responsibility for others’ lives. Funny, to think that. I don’t mind endlessness, I don’t mind silence. Whenever my father drove I tried to watch how the passing lights changed my face, thought I would see a prettiness when only my eyes reflected. He didn’t drive us kids often, my mother was our….I can only think of biblical terms but I don’t want to anglicize her. None of us were angels. My sisters have each been in an accident twice. I’m too nervous, too careful; driving did not come naturally. One time when I was six at a park the operator had to stop the ride because I was crying too hard, unable to drive the track. I source all car-related panic to this moment. I should be writing about cars, not being driven. I should be writing about moments, not the stretch of my life. There’s a statistic that humans waste six months of their life at red lights. One time my sister kicked me out of the car at a stop sign on a backroad. We were supposed to go to Jubilee day but some small, explosive argument occurred and she scratched and hit until I got out. I walked 2 miles to my aunt’s house, saddened by whatever it was about me that could not allow us to breathe in the same space. She kicked me out another time, at a gas station in Harrisburg. My mother had given us the wrong directions to my friend’s sleepover and my sister got so angry back then. My friend’s mother had to come get me, and I waited almost an hour trying not to look conspicuous while holding my pink and red comforter. Maybe there’s something about cars that makes us all a little mad. My dad watches car shows and dreams of turning our shed into his own garage. My mother told me this. My mother dreams of another convertible; her hair always blew straight back no matter what the weather. Mine did not, and now it’s too short to blind me. They sold and traded in three cars to get me a car for college. I am grateful for the freedom but the guilt is unwarranted. Those cars weren’t running anyway. There was a PT cruiser in our driveway for four years. Dad says mice made homes and we could see dust and desiccated insects through the windows. I thought it looked like art, how the earth finds every gap and abandoned place and works to reclaim it. My mother said she would get it fixed up and drive it again, but more likely a forest god would make an offer—everyone wants freedom of movement. Eventually we sold it for parts, but no one’s allowed to park where it sat.

 

Makensi Ceriani is a first year poet in Virginia Tech’s MFA program. She is a poetry reader for the minnesota review.

Lauren Garretson is a first year fiction writer in Virginia Tech’s MFA program. She is a fiction reader for the minnesota review.

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