While walking with Jason Diamond on the Upper West Side, he talked about the absolute thrall the concept of Zabar’s had on him as a child—before he had ever even set foot in the famous delicatessen:
Growing up, when the adults around me would mention Zabar’s, I’d imagine a mythical city—somewhere deep in the desert. I had a whole story in my head written about Zabar’s before I ever even came here. I’d hear adults whisper, “Oh, they got this spread from Zabar’s.” Or, “We got these cookies from Zabar’s.” It was almost certainly the first brand recognition—that wasn’t, say, Coca Cola or McDonald’s—I had growing up. I remember wondering, “What is Zabar’s? Where is Zabar’s?” All I knew was that if something was good, it was almost certainly from Zabar’s.
So I wanted to ask y’all, what was a place—or name or concept—that absolutely took over your imagination as a kid? Also, how close to reality was what your young mind came up with?
When I was in elementary school in Cleveland, Ohio, the Cleveland Museum of Art offered free art classes for kids in the galleries on Saturday morning with free transportation on a school bus. I attended for several years.
That museum became as familiar to me as my own home. Sixty five years later you could blindfold me, lead me inside (the old entrance facing The Thinker), and I would know which gallery I was in. I had my favorite things to “visit”, and while I never was an artist, I’m artistic and creative, encouraged by my experiences there.
I live in California now and last January went back to the museum when I was in Cleveland for a wedding. It’s bigger, more modern now, but my soul still felt safe, fuller and renewed, more so than from any other museum.
Back in the 70's my mom drove my four brothers and me to some event maybe a circus and while there we won these a bunch of these gold-colored coins that we could redeem at Hardees the burger joint. After the circus, my mom drove us up and down the highway in search of the mythical Hardees -- I don't think we had been there before. Up and down, up and down in search of the place we could trade our gold coins for delicious burgers. Unfortunately, we never found it that day. And I don't know if we ever tried again. I just remember the intense search and the longing while sitting in the back seat of our car.
Oddly, and embarrassingly, it was The Great Salt Lake. As a kid in my northern NH elementary school, our social studies text book had a photo of a family sitting in the water with a table. That table had food on it and I still to this day remember that family sitting on chairs. The salt supposedly made the water so buoyant you could sit up in it! You could eat off a table! I had to see this.
Flash forward to when I was 17 and saw the lake for the first time, a huge spreading brown puddle rimmed in salt-streaked sand. No one was in it. You could not sit or stand in this water. I did taste it though and it was like my first taste of baccala (unboiled) at the Gloucester Fisherman's museum. I am still trying to scrape the salt off my tongue.
My parents would go out for dinner, drinks (maybe dancing?) when I was a kid. They would almost always go to Kon Tiki Ports in downtown Chicago and my mom would bring me the paper umbrella from her drink. She and my dad were always dressed up and left the house in a swirl of hairspray, cigarette smoke and perfume. It seemed so glamorous! Years later in grad school, I read Said’s “Orientalism” and did some internet sleuthing on the popularity of Polynesian restaurants and tiki bars in the 60s. The smoke of glamour disappeared quickly.
This is my husband's story, not mine, but he had an overactive imagination as a child to the point where his expectations were regularly not met :D
For instance, as a kid his family went on a cruise, and there was a lot of chatter about baked Alaska - it's ice cream! It's on fire! and in his head it because a dessert **in the shape of Alaska** that was just, ablaze. Well. Not only was it just a square piece of ice cream + meringue, but they couldn't even really set it on fire because it was a cruise ship - so it just had a candle in it.
Living “ in town” . As a country girl who went to town by bus for school the desire to live where you could walk to stores or to a friends or to school seemed unbelievably wonderful. And the rich imagining that went with that desire was formative for me.
When I was 16 and graduated from high school I was on the bus the next morning to the city 3 hours away and when I found that city too small I went to a much bigger one and from there to an even bigger one. And to this day, many decades later, the early morning sounds of a city awakening bring me joy. The reality was as good as the fantasy.
Intergalactic space, I was eleven years old, and that’s actually all three things: a place, a name, and a concept.
Growing up in an 1850's farmhouse in Massachusetts ignited my imagination like no place since. In the cellar, where I was sent to pull carrots from the sandbox in winter, I fantasized about the farmhouse being part of the Underground Railroad. See, there was this dark stone tunnel from the cellar to the outside. It had a huge wooden door that rolled back on a steel track and made me think of the stone rolling back off the tomb of Jesus.
Leaving the cellar, I took the stairs to the first floor—swatting away the spider webs and watching in case something might reach through the open treads and grab me by an ankle. After that, I passed through the parlor, where no one—to my knowledge—has ever entertained guests. All I know is that when the last of the Browning family died, Mr. Browning was laid out there, and a horse and buggy carried him in his coffin down past the apple orchard and across the field of timothy grass to the Browning family cemetery.
When Mummy needed an onion or two from the attic, I had to take the first three steps in the pitch black, then grab the pull string hanging down from the single bare light bulb that lit the stairs. Their steps were worn smooth as river rocks, and I always wondered about the girls who went before me. Did they wear petticoats and eyelet blouses—or dungarees and a t-shirt—like me? I liked to raise the lid on Babci's steamer trunk. It had carried her church clothes, a wicker basket, and her featherbed—all the way from the port of Antwerp to New York City. She remembered how cold it was, riding in the open boats that ferried the travelers to the immigration desks.
The attic had a scary part too. My brother Dicky told me that Daddy enlisted him to help kill the bats that hung from the rafters during the day, minding their own business until dusk when they fled the attic in droves, gobbling up mosquitos all the way. Dick said Daddy gave him a bucket and a steel pipe, and they smacked those bats dead, filling buckets with the bodies of the furry little creatures.
As a child, I often heard my mother talking about her and my father's famed visit to Glass House in Bangalore, India, among countless mentions of 100 of their other country-wide trips. I would always wonder if it would be a place as gorgeous as a Disney castle. When I finally experienced the place roughly 15-16 years later, it was the opposite of what one sees in Disney. Still, it did give a new perspective to prettier botanical garden structures. :)
What a great way to remember things from your childhood! I grew up in an old house in the Highlands of Scotland, which was surrounded by large trees. When I was about 10 I read Tam O'Shanter by Robert Burns. Ever after, when there was a storm and the wind blew fiercely through the trees, I huddled under the covers in my attic bedroom and imagined that the witches were out get me!
"The wind blew as 'twad blawn its last;
The rattling show'rs rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow'd;
Loud, deep, and lang the thunder bellow'd:
That night, a child might understand,
The Deil had business on his hand."
The wind blew as if it had blown its last;
The rattling showers rose on the blast;
Loud, deep, and long the thunder bellow'd:
The Devil had business on his hand.