First Memory

by Howard Eskildsen

I was born and raised in the valley of the Platte River, once referred to by James Michener as a no name river in the middle of a no name state.  I did not share his view, for me it was the center of my universe, and though I have not lived there in decades, it is the root from which I have branched.  I have many memories from my Nebraska youth, but it came as a great surprise to me that my very first recollections came to me in a dream.  All of my conscious memories were of the farm where I lived on the corner of the section at Rural Route 2, Box 40, but we had lived in the house on the corner a mile north until just after I had learned to walk.  

I had a recurring dream that always ended too soon and left me wondering.  It had a common theme of a stairway lowering from the sky with bright lights beckoning me to ascend into a mystical bliss. Each time I would approach it, words of waning would forbid my ascent, and if I tried to climb it, I always failed, or was I prevented by some unseen force. Though my older brothers would scamper up it, I could never follow.  

Sometimes the dream would occur every few days and other times it would be months, but each time I would think: There was that dream again. I actually began to look forward to it retuning.  Once it was particularly vivid. I was in the yard by Ruth Bell’s house with the trees surrounding a patch of bright blue sky. The lower portion descended as if the upper portion were magically hinged to the heavens. Again, there were lights and sounds of happiness at the top of the stairs.  Again, I was unable to ascend. After that, the dream gradually became less frequent and less vivid until I had all but forgotten it.  

A few years later a grade school buddy, Greg, who lived in the house that I no longer recalled, asked me to stop by on my home. We rode our bikes over the gravel road that crunched beneath our tires. At corner where I usually turned south to ride the final mile home, I instead went with him into his house. I had only passing familiarity of the white farmhouse by the big barn and silo at the north corner of the section.  

He invited me in and inside the entrance the kitchen and way to main level rooms lay to the left. Stairs straight ahead led down to the basement. He said here is my room and he pulled on a rope near the basement stairs, and from above, a wooden staircase slowly descended. That’s it, I nearly exclaimed, but then held my tongue. Once, those stairs had led to where my brothers slept, but I had been too little to join them; I had actually seen them in the past and they were the source of my dream. While I was quite excited to have made this discovery, I never told Greg; he probably would have thought I was crazy.