Memories scratch the surface

I have an unpleasant childhood memory:

My mother brought me over to my Aunt Sue’s house when I was 7.

“You’re going to play with Julie today,” she told me in the car. I was excited – my cousin Julie is my age and was the closest thing I had to a sister growing up. They lived in Sunset Bay, Silver Creek at the time. Our skin was always sun-kissed russet – our favorite place to play during the summer was along the shore in the buttery wave-spume.

My aunt greeted us in the doorway as usual.

“Julie just got into the bath,” she said slyly.

“Why don’t you join her before we go to the beach Sarahbelle?” my mother chimed in.

Besides it being the middle of a July afternoon, I found nothing strange about this. “Bathtime” was our favorite time together. Therein, always prior to bed, we’d play mermaids with our Barbies and chat about life. Before sinking into the water, we’d “rock, paper, scissor” to see who could sit on the side with the faucet, our waterfall.

When I got into the tub that day, I realized something was very wrong: Julie was freckled with bright red spots all over her body.

I said something like, “What’s wrong with you?”

“I think our moms are trying to get you sick,” she whispered.

Aunt Sue brought in a box of Barbies; I shrugged off Julie’s appearance. A week later I was riddled with the worst case of Chickenpox my mother – a nurse – had seen.

Twenty years later I still look at the scars on my face and cringe at that itchy week of hell.

“What were you thinking?” I’ve asked my mother on a few occasions.

“It’s what parents did,” she defends herself. “There were a lot more complications if you got them as an adult.” She feels guilty now that there’s a vaccine.

Julie and I reminisced and laughed about this memory when I came home for Christmas.

We were having dinner in Western New York. It was nice – we hadn’t gone out together in a long while. Our lives have taken us down different paths: she’s a photographer living in Silver Creek with two young children; I’m a writer living with my cat in Manhattan. We get the highlights of each other’s life at family gatherings (it’s difficult for Julie to visit because of the kids). But it’s the day-to-day stuff that I miss.

Over dinner Julie introduced me to a new smartphone application called “Voxer.” It’s a kind of Walkie Talkie that allows you to send instant audio to people.

“You just press on the button and talk,” she showed me. However long the recording, your message is sent to the person who can then listen to it whenever.

My visits home come and go so quickly. Before I knew it my mother was driving me back to the Buffalo train station. “Let me know when you get home Sarahbelle,” she said. She waved me goodbye.

After the 10-hour ride back to slushy New York, I desperately needed a hot bath with my favorite lavender seltzer. While steeping in purple waves, I browsed my iPhone for missed texts and emails. I noticed my new Voxer application was blinking – Julie had left me a message.

“Hey. Just taking a bath, making sure you got back to New York,” she said. Then she told me about her day.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to or view her Web site at