Behind the Curtain of Memory

Darrelyn Saloom, 1958

On far right: Darrelyn Saloom in McAllen, Texas (1958), holding the hand of her Daddy, Darrell Milas Wilkerson

Before the kidnapping, I lived with my father and two older sisters in Austin, Texas. In second grade—1963—Daddy longed to enroll me in an art program at a progressive academy because I covered our walls with words and drawings of rotary telephones. I’d never attend the conservatory, but I remember holding my father’s hand as a silvery-bearded headmaster toured us through classrooms.

Our rented apartment had a pool in the center of the complex at the top of a hill. My father drove my sisters and me to public school every morning in a light-turquoise T-Bird. Daddy shifted the bird into neutral and we’d glide the whole way down. He didn’t own the car for long. He traded vehicles the way he did towns and never bought a house in his lifetime. He had no need. My father was a traveler.

The night of the kidnapping, I remember the pool’s reflection, Daddy, Mama, stepdad, and a policeman. My sisters were told over and over to stay in the apartment, but they kept sneaking back towards the drama in fear of losing their baby sister to our mother who pleaded to let me live with her.

The policeman asked me if I wanted to stay or to go, an impossible question to answer with both parents in tears. Unable to speak, a decision was made to allow me to spend the night at a motel with my mother, who had not seen me in months? A year? Wailing, I climbed in the backseat of Mama’s Rambler, my sisters running alongside the car as we drove away.

At the motel, I was told to stay put. My mother and stepfather rushed inside and right back out, flung suitcases in the trunk, and fled to Louisiana. My only memories of the trip are of thick cigarette smoke and looking out the rear window as we crossed the border to say goodbye to a Texas-shaped limestone marker that sealed my fate.

After the kidnapping, I gained a beloved stepsister only six months my senior and two much-older stepbrothers. I also inherited a stepfather who carried deep wounds and a money clip found in his oldest son’s pocket when he died in a motorcycle accident. My stepdad was a kind man when sober, a violent man when drunk.

In my new neighborhood with coulees that flooded, I cycled at night on borrowed bikes. Nothing pleased me more than lights on and wide-open curtains, inviting me to peek into other families’ lives. How normal they seemed. I wondered what it would be like to live in those houses with my parents and siblings and meals served on dining-room tables.

I also wondered what makes a woman kidnap her child. Is it kidnapping if a mother does it? Why do women stay with drunken men who hit them? Why do some men travel while others return home every day at 5:45? Why did my mother choose me? And why do I hide when voices are raised? Long shadows of questions begged to be answered.

As I try to remember the events of my childhood, I can’t help but mull over and not know how much is myth and how much is true. To find the answers, I scurry behind the curtain of memory and fill my pockets with dirt-encrusted nuggets, chisel away layers of grime for a glimmer of truth. There, my anger dissolves to make room for writing with understanding and love.

Other memories are uncovered in Proustian moments—a Johnny Rivers or Roy Orbison tune, the smell of anything Chef Boyardee or a TV dinner baking in the oven, the cracking sound of a beer can when someone peels back the tab. Reruns of Bewitched and My Three Sons, the movies Pinocchio and The Sound of Music.

Today’s mantra is to live in the present moment, and perhaps I am missing something by roaming back in time to wash away myth from truth. But I’ve discovered the best nonfiction writing takes place behind the curtain of memory—where beauty is revealed in the flawed characters of your life, nuggets of gold worthy of excavation.

Top photo: This is five years before the kidnapping (1958) of an unknown man to the left; my sisters, Jeanne and Janie; and Daddy holding my hand. It was a sad day because Daddy was always traveling and was about to journey off again.

Below: After the kidnapping in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1964. My stepsister Judy is on the left. I’m on the right with my legs tucked under me. [Click the photo to view at larger size.]

Judy & Darrelyn Saloom (1964)

Judy Tagert & Darrelyn Saloom in Lafayette, Louisiana (1964)

Posted in Darrelyn Saloom, Guest Post.

Darrelyn Saloom

Darrelyn Saloom is co-author of My Call to the Ring with champion boxer, Deirdre Gogarty. It was released in summer 2012 by Glasnevin Publishing in Ireland. Most of her time is spent south of I-10 in Louisiana, on a farm with her husband, a cat, a blind dog, and thoroughbred racehorses.

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56 Comments on "Behind the Curtain of Memory"

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cynthia newberry martin
cynthia newberry martin

Oh my gosh, childhood broken in half, these words and photos. I can’t believe the policeman asked you whether you wanted to go or to stay–the impossible question. How old were you? 

I don’t think you’re missing anything by looking behind the curtain of memory. You know I’m fascinated by who we were then and who we are now.

I hope you’re going to write more…

Darrelyn Saloom

Thank you for the kind words, Cynthia. I was eight at the time and two almost three in the top photo. I remember the policeman as nice but exasperated and unsure what to do. I believe he hoped I could solve his dilema. 

Jenny

What a fascinating peek behind the curtain of memory. Knowing and understanding the past helps to ground us in the present, I think.

Jenny Fickey

I wonder the same questions about my recollections of childhood and memories of my mom. Am I remembering correctly? Did I make that part up? I also wonder what makes us remember some moments so vividly and forget other parts completely. The curtain of memory is tricky and fascinating.

It’s wonderful you could share this piece of your life with us. You put this scary experience into beautiful words.

Jenny Fickey

Darrelyn Saloom

Thanks, Jenny. I know it’s hard for you to remember since you lost your mom, my sister Janie, at such a young age. You are one of my inspirations in telling these stories. 

Skipper Hammond

Yes, you must write this. A model for others wanting to find lost childhoods.

Darrelyn Saloom

Aw, more encouragement. Thank you, Skipper. Love your name. 

Dave Malone

Gorgeous piece of writing, Darrelyn. So moving. Your prose here is equally GOLD.

Darrelyn Saloom

As is your friendship. Congratulations on publishing another wonderful poem. 

Anonymous

Darrelyn, another memoir vignette to treasure! I was SO deeply touched by the child’s perspective, rekindled by the masterful prose of the adult narrator.

No matter whether true or myth, we tuck our personal stories into life’s chosen compartments so they can be taken out and fondled again and again. Each time we revisit these stories, they take on a little more patina, coloring things this way or that, but in the end, it’s the heart of the story that touches other hearts and lives on.

Yours will live on in my heart for a long long time. Loved it!

Darrelyn Saloom

Thank you, Debra. So glad you enjoyed.

Jeanne_strauss
Darrelyn,the unknown man’s name is Bill and he was a salesman that worked with our father. He was happily married to the sweetest woman. The reason you were chosen was because of a convoluted scheme Mom came up with to keep her man.  She was pressuring Roger to leave his wife.  He didn’t want to leave his daughter, Judy, behind.  Mom convinced him she needed a sister more than she needed her own mother. She quickly rushed to get you back, in order to get Roger to leave his wife and take Judy as well.  I hope this helps. If… Read more »
Darrelyn Saloom

OMG! Now I remember his name was Bill. But I don’t remember his wife. You may have to move in with me while I map out the story. Love you big sis. I’ll be calling tonight and visiting soon. 

Jess

Wow! That does sound like something Grandma would do.
Darrelyn, You’ve told me the story before but not with so much detail. I love your personal history blogs the most. It makes me feel closer to you to understand one more facet of your life. I love the idea of you writing a memoir! I love all the stories you tell about yourself at home and would love to read a book about your life. Maybe it’s something to do once the dust settles on the farm.

Texanne Kelly

Yes, to your question: if a mother does it, is it kidnapping?   Or if a father does it, yes.  Still yes.  You sliced open your own vein and nicked mine in the process.  I’m sorry you didn’t have the childhood you deserved.  You have a lifetime left to share your lemonade with a thirsty world, and pass the recipe from hand to hand.  Thanks.

Darrelyn Saloom

Dang, Texanne, you have a marvelous way with words. Sorry about the nick. I’ll keep sqeezing those lemons. 

Yvette Porter Moore

Did you publish this in your book, memoir…It is touching and memoir quality.  I would buy the book.

Darrelyn Saloom

Thank you, Yvette. The memoir I co-wrote is about a female boxer from Ireland who was world champion in 1997. We have completed the memoir and are searching for an agent or publisher at the moment. My story is not a book. But it’s something I’m thinking about writing. I appreciate the encouragement. 

Tammy Patin Rivoire

you need to write a book and I want a signed copy

George LaCas

An honest and fascinating post, Darrelyn. Do you know what struck me as I read it? That maybe you should think about writing a memoir. This post seems like the first chapter, maybe. Very interesting and personal.

Darrelyn Saloom

Thank you, George. Means a great deal to hear that from you. 

Herman

Darrelyn, you apply two things here I learned from Barry Hannah in a few workshops the summer before he died: “Start with one true sentence”, and “why do I care;” why is this different from a thousands other things I have read. I try to remember to ask this on behalf of my readers. Well done.

Darrelyn Saloom

Jeez, Herman. You had me at Barry Hannah. Just putting my name in the same sentence with his made my day. Thank you, Memphis.

Christopher

Best read I’ve had in awhile.

Thanks.

CLF

Don Bertrand

Wow….wow. I am touched and you painted that so.

kat magendie

The curtain of memory has a window behind where the scenary is always changing in flashes – it’s frustrating to try to pull up memories when things are chaotic.

Darrelyn Saloom

I hear you, Kat, it is frustrating and painful and often hilarious.

Katy

Once again, your writing has me crying, smiling and longing for more. How incredible that you survived this traumatic ordeal to become the wonderful human being that you are now, Darrelyn. Your nature and spirit are to be emulated by all of us. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, I’d truly love to read more….keep searching behind that curtain!

Darrelyn Saloom

Thank you for the kind words, Katy. I’ll do my best to write more.

Dave Malonr

@Herman I so agree about that first sentence and Darrelyn, you give us a doozy. And then follow up with such concrete images: writing on the walls, the bearded schoolmaster. Just masterful, these images (as others have noted) that are nuanced by time, memory, and an adult narrator. Wowee! Sounds like the memoir has already been started. 🙂

Darrelyn Saloom

Thanks, Dave. 🙂

Erika Robuck

I am speechless. What a moving and poignant essay. It begs for more attention–a memoir, perhaps? Thank you for sharing this with us. 

Darrelyn Saloom

Thanks, Erika. I can’t wait to read your book as soon as it’s published.

Tammy Patin Rivoire

Darrelyn I never knew this. such a sad story. You are a brave Heart

Darrelyn Saloom

That is so kind of you to say. Thank you, Tammy.

Suzette
Thanks so much for sharing, dear friend. Your poignancy touches nerves that would evoke anyone’s own childhood memories, those at which we wince as well as the ones that comfort and encourage us all to draw back the curtain if we dare. You’re right about the Proustian moments. For me, the smell of Ivory bath soap when I kissed my nanny’s sweaty black cheek or the loving black hands that cut up soft fried eggs with crispy edges atop my bowl of hot buttery grits are some of the more pleasant ones. Even the fragrance of inexpensive cologne mixed with cigarette… Read more »
Darrelyn Saloom

Oh, wow, it’s funny that we had that connection and didn’t really know what drew us together as friends because you never talked about your home life. Maybe I can pull it out of you now, Suzette. As for your comment, I’ll do my best here and say, C’est très gentil à vousm. If I screwed up the French you can correct me over tea. 

Suzette
Tres bien! And just so you know, gros bisous is a “big kiss” in parting. I’ve been enamored with the french language and attempting to learn it for years. My current tutorials are to speed up the process as my grandbaby is speaking her first words in french now, and I have a lovely collection of french childrens books that I am determined to read aloud to her as she grows. P.S. As busy as we both are I feel sure that we are “just missing” each other all around town (especially Fresh Market & The Oil Center) and the… Read more »
Barbara Weibel

So sad. I’m just so sad for you. Did you ever get reunited with your father? And how long was it before you saw your sisters again? I was itching to know “the end of the story” as they say.

Darrelyn Saloom

You are so kind, Barbara. Yes, Daddy was a traveler, so when he left the country, my sisters lived with us in Louisiana for long stretches of time. After a few years, I was allowed to spend summers with my father. Which would be spent in Hawaii or Panama in Central America, where he lived a long time. So don’t be sad. It made me appreciate every second spent with the most fun-loving man I’ve ever known. For that I will always be grateful.

Cpatinjones

You said, “But I’ve discovered the best nonfiction writing takes place behind the curtain of memory—where beauty is revealed in the flawed characters of your life, nuggets of gold worthy of excavation.”  You just proved it!  Well done!

Heartwarming and had an element of surprise for me! 

Darrelyn Saloom

Thank you, C. I’m so glad you enjoyed. 

Gangster4469

whoever woulda known….

Jennifer Orozco

Great post. I’ve been thinking about the veil of myth with family members myself over the last few days. My grandfather recently passed, and though I am coping fine, I’m inundated with thoughts of his life…scattered moments that come to me unbidden. It’s become interesting to me how much of his life has become mythologized, even by his own children. Why do we have this need to do this? What purpose does it serve? Does it help us forgive them more easily? 

Darrelyn Saloom
Jennifer, I think myths begin with oral storytelling. And storytellers tend to embellish. When I sat down to write this piece, I had first written that my stepfather carried his son’s money clip and JFK silver half-dollar in his pocket till he died. I have those items and when I examined them, I realized only the money clip belonged to his son. The Kennedy half-dollar was dated 1967 and his son died in ’62 or ’63. But I had been told my entire life the story of the half dollar, and it was a layer I had to scape away… Read more »
Sally G

I do believe that sometimes in order to move forward we must look back and…I think it is better done with the perspective that middle age gives us.  Our questions change, no longer focused on just what was happening to us but to the circumstances that brought about the event, or events, that challenged us.  A global way of thinking, a good memoir in the making.  You can take us anywhere you want to go.

Darrelyn Saloom

Thanks, Sally. I agree middle age, though I’ll have to live to be 110 to be considered middle age, is a good time to look back. Mostly because we need distance and enough experiece in making mistakes not to be so bitter and angry with our parents for their crazy behavior. 

Dacutler

Hi D
You had me hooked with the first sentence. I have always admired the way you look at people objectively. I think it’s hard to do that especially with loved ones. Enjoyed it a lot D. I love you

Darrelyn Saloom

So glad you enjoyed. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I love you, too. 

Davidlyons3

Wow. I knew I was reading the truth. You write with a butcher’s cleaver. Sharp, clean, and to the bone, nothing wasted. 

Mary

Amazing and you are such a good writer, writing from the jugular, close to the bone. Hoping here for you.

Betty161

Darrelyn, My quick checking out Jane Friedman’s Blog became 20 minutes gripped with your story. Your perspective is without anger or ‘being the victim.’ I, too, hope that a memior is in your future.

For you, I’m pleased it sounds like you have contact with your full-siblings. That is so important for you — and them.

PJ Kaiser

Darrelyn – bravo!  Just wanted to chime in (late to the party) and encourage you to continue with your memoir – this is stunning prose and a fascinating story.

Diane Ronzino

What a beautiful post! Beautiful writing! Long to hear more…

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Inspired Links – August 23, 2011 | Inspired by Real Life

[…] If you enjoy lovely prose (and who doesn’t?), here’s a beautiful memoir piece from Darrelyn Saloom “Behind the Curtain of Memory.” […]

shirleyhs

Oh, Darrelyn, I love this post! I wanted to know more about you when you were so kind to my interview with my mother on Jane Friedman’s website. Thank you again for that.

What do I love about this piece? The repetition of those first three words–“After the kidnapping” and the idea of the curtain of memory. 

I lived in Austin for four years. Got my PhD in American Studies there. Had students from McAllen. The photo above reminds me of Mary Karr’s photos.

Let’s stay in touch.