Memories live on
They say that each time you remember something, you are only recalling the last time you had that memory, and so with each remembering, the memory somehow shifts. I don’t know if this is true, but after today, I am wondering what makes a memory the way it is.
Today, my mother uncovered a remnant of my youth. I feel it is not so long ago, but also a lifetime ago. Time has an uncanny way of passing in that regard. In the box she brought me was a Bible, one I must have carried to Sunday school at the church I attended with my parents, cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents.
If you had asked me to recall that first Bible, I wouldn’t have been able to describe it, but in my hands the memories came flooding back, overwhelmingly. The binding loose and the colors faded on the cover — memories that must’ve been stored between the ages of 4 and 8, according to the memorabilia tucked between the pages — were as vivid as this morning. I wouldn’t have thought that possible.
A card I had drawn for my dad was also inside, the handwriting, the blocky print of a first-grader. I clearly remembered sitting in my mother’s kitchen painstakingly drawing little red apples and blueberries on the bushes and trees I had created. I remember the warmth of the crayon gripped tightly in my hand. The rush of that memor y was intense and surprising to say the least, more so since my father has been gone now 16 years. So on that memory tumbled many, many more.
It’s kind of like walking up to the riverbank, intending to gaze along the surface and bask in the warm sunlight, only to be caught up in the rush of the rapids just around the bend. Powerful and unexpected, but still the same river that only moments before was peaceful.
Uncovered inside also, a surprise. A tiny booklet entitled The Big White House on the Corner. The house to me was familiar, from stories repeated by my grandfather and uncles, even though when I knew the house its exterior and purpose had already changed. Inside the booklet, the stor y of the big white house unfolds, a surprising — to me — history of my family. Not so that the story was new, but my perspective as an adult certainly had changed the import, and even more surprising the author, my great-grandmother, Naomi.
Of the many memories I have of this beloved woman — a tender, tiny, but fierce person who could seemingly pull a meal for twenty out of her apron pockets; soft, wrinkled skin that smelled of lilac and peppermint and butterscotch candies — I never knew her to be a writer. I was delighted to read her words and pleased to think that a little of her lives on in me.
I’ve been away from this column for too long. I envy my friend Dan and his weekly pilgrimage to put thoughts on paper for as long as he has. I don’t know if I’m ready to be back, but to deny these memories a chance to be written was something I could hold back no more than that river holds back from the rapids. Some things, some thoughts, just have to be allowed to flow.