Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone,
And that has twenty-eight days clear,
And twenty-nine in each leap year.
Memory is at the heart of memoir. It fuels unfolding stories. A memoir writer like me depends on it for inspiration. When there are glitches, I freeze: Trying to remember a word, I experience a flicker: Ah, it has three-syllables, begins with V. But what is that word?
One of my earliest memories is sitting in a high chair looking over the wooden tray and seeing the kitchen table covered in oilcloth with a red, black, white, and silver repeat pattern. It’s just a flicker, but I’ve experienced it so many times, I’ve convinced myself it is true.
In the blurry border between sleeping and awakening, a landscape often forms in my head: a cornfield disappearing acres away into a stand of trees. An image from my childhood, the picture is reinforced every time I look out the front window of my mother’s house where she has lived for over 70 years.
In probing my childhood . . . I see the awakening of consciousness as a series of spaced flashes, with the intervals between them gradually diminishing until bright blocks of perception are formed, affording memory a slippery hold.
Smells often arouse memory. A sniff of hyacinth in the supermarket takes me right back to Grandma’s spring garden. My grandchildren’s Crayolas transport me to my own fresh box in first grade. Fresh ink . . . new second-grade textbook, Friends and Neighbors. Crinkly crepe paper, my Hallowe’en costume.
Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of years and all the miles and all the years we have lived.
Memory is erratic too. I used to think that if I remembered something, then it must be true. But maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. We all remember Grandma giving us a dose of whiskey with honey at times of extreme unction when we were deathly sick with the flu. We all agree it went down our throats like fire. But we disagree on the details. Was it Schenley? Or Jack Daniels? One or two tablespoons?
The brain invents stories and runs imagined and remembered events back and forth through time.
Edward O. Wilson
We all know stress shrinks memory, but “a good dose of sugar—found in dieter’s no-nos like jelly doughnuts, banana cream pie, and chocolate eclairs—markedly enhances it.” (Rupp)
Let me take a bite . . . . Well, it worked. I remember the word now: “VICTROLA!”
Source: Rupp, Rebecca. Committed to Memory: How We Remember and Why We Forget.
Hamlet — “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
What flickers of memory came to mind as you read this?
About what memories do you and a family member disagree?