An Artist Writes Memoir: Joan Z. Rough’s “Scattering Ashes”

Introducing Joan

I met Joan Z. Rough on Chincoteague Island in February 2015, having become blog buddies months earlier. When we met on this writers’ retreat, Joan was using the Scrivener tool to revise and edit the manuscript for a memoir of the 7-year slice of her life taking care of a terminally ill mother she had both loved and hated: a narcissistic, alcoholic woman.

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Let me introduce you to Joan properly from her website “About” page:

Besides writing poetry and nonfiction, I am an artist, passionate about painting with oils and wax, collage, mixed media, photography, and sculpting French beaded flowers.  My work in photography has been exhibited throughout the nation and has found homes in numerous collections. Though retired from actively showing my work, I still take great joy in creating large, colorful works on canvas and paper and smaller encaustic paintings on wood.

When near-collapse from care-taking was imminent, Joan retreated to making colláges, furiously painting in oils, writing poetry and frantically beading, beading, beading, lovely jewelry pieces.

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Click here for a poem with an autumn palette.

Her memoir Scattering Ashes launched just yesterday on September 20, 2016. This memoir resonates with healing and hope for adult children caring for burdensome parents.

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My Review

Joan Zabski Rough, author of Scattering Ashes, is a painter, a poet, and photographer. She is also a memoirist who summons her artistic talent in order to lay bare her life story, particularly her complex relationship with a narcissistic, alcoholic mother suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this memoir of letting go, the author paints a picture of the violence of her childhood and the search for solace through art, taming the dragon lady within, using bold strokes of black, yellow, and red, evident in a colláge she recalls constructing in her journey toward peace.

In Scattering Ashes, the reader observes writer Rough fighting to let go of guilt, shame, and self-doubt as she says a long goodbye to her elderly mother during seven years of caring for her in her own home, becoming a mother to her own mother. Face to face with the woman who birthed her, she is forced to confront scars of childhood that have left her feeling victimized with low self-esteem, a demon she has grappled with her entire life. As a reader in thrall to the unfolding tale of the dutiful care-taker daughter shackled to an ungrateful mother, I wanted to shout, “Stop, you’ve done enough. You are good enough. You are enough!”

Through metaphor, the artistic author vividly describes her muse: her ideal, stable family carved of marble. Then she deciphers the dilemma of her journey with travel imagery:

The crossroads I’m at is not your usual four-corners kind of deal. It’s a hub of sorts, with innumerable roads shooting off in all directions. I’m afraid I’ll choose the wrong road. I know I can’t stay where I am for long, and I certainly don’t want to go back the way I came. But where do I go? And what does it mean to be free of the burdens I’ve spent these last years carrying?

Joan Rough’s memoir begins like Picasso’s Guernica with images of violence and animosity, her home a war zone. It ends as its author promises in the book’s dedication “ . . . to all mothers and daughters who are seeking to love and forgive each other.”

I highly recommend this memoir to all who struggle to make sense of a complicated mother-daughter relationship. This true story lights the way to self-acceptance, forgiveness – and eventually, to healing.


Meet Joan on her Facebook author page

Buy her book here!   scatteringashes


Do you know Joan or someone like her? Can you relate to her struggles? her triumph?

 

Coming next: Aunt Ruthie Longenecker – Her Life in Pictures

Louisa Adams’ Moving Adventure

Remember the Beverly Hillbillies? The Clampetts strike oil in the Ozarks and move to Beverly Hills in a rags-to-riches sitcom of the 1960s.

Beverly Hillbillies Moving Van, courtesy Google Images
Beverly Hillbillies Moving Van, courtesy Google Images

 

Of an entirely different era and social class, diarist Louisa Catherine Adams, wife of the 6th American President, John Quincy Adams, writes about multiple moves – both in European nations where John Quincy was diplomat and in the United States serving variously as senator, secretary of state, president, and finally congressman again.

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Woman on the Move

After the birth of her third child, “as soon as she could rise from her bed, she lifted the lids of her empty trunks and opened her packing cases to prepare to leave for Washington. She was ‘a wanderer’ again.” (140)

In her boldest move, Louisa traversed the passage from St. Petersburg to Paris while Napoleon rampaged through Europe. She traveled 2000 miles in 40 days, a journey almost unheard of for a woman alone.

Louisa and Son Charles’ Wild Ride

In 1815, while John Quincy was gone to Paris, Louisa in St. Petersburg had to “sell the furniture, dispose of the house, and buy a carriage that could carry her across the continent” to Paris. She needed supplies: food, drink, clothing, maps, tools and enough medicines for a small apothecary. She had read the map herself, not having heard from her husband, and unflinchingly set her course.

Her largest expense was the carriage, “a berline, a large vehicle with four seats and glass windows, all balanced on an elaborate suspension of springs intended to smooth the rough ride.” Leaving St. Petersburg, the carriage was outfitted with sleigh runners. Wheels were packed when she met melting roads traveling west and south. (206)

She sewed gold and silver into her skirts to hide her wealth from robbers and from her male servants. (206)

Touch of Humor:

During the sojourn, though her two male servants were armed, she put on her son’s military cap and held his toy sword so that what she hoped was a menacing silhouette would show through the carriage window. (221)

True to her declaration when she married Adams, “When my husband married me, he made a great mistake if he thought I only intended to play an echo.” (8)

Her Most Moving Adventure

Louisa, often sickly and afflicted with self-doubt, recorded her grief in “Diaries of a Nobody.” After all, she was often geographically separated from her husband during his ascendance to power, she suffered multiple miscarriages, all of her children except Charles preceded her in death, and she struggled with erysipelas, a skin inflammation.

But her vividly told “Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France” enabled her to tunnel “her way out of depression with the sharp spade of her sardonic humor . . . .“ (396)

She wrote about Baptiste, innkeepers, haggard soldiers she has passed on the road, frightened faces of the women she met, cries of Vive Napoleón! She remembers the practical difficulties she had overcome: the moment the carriage wheel had come loose, the problem of procuring servants, the dangerous decision to ford a half-frozen river. She wrote about her growing confidence, which rippled out of her descriptions and into her voice. (411)

“Her story was her own. No other woman in America had experienced anything like it. But she made its lessons universal. It was a story about women and what women could achieve . . . . She wrote: ‘Under all circumstances, we must never desert ourselves.’” (411)

Move for Equality

At 62, in an era when a woman’s life span was about 40, she was blossoming. Like the Grimké sisters of Charleston, with whom she corresponded, she championed women’s rights and the freeing of slaves.

The Lesson of a Cracked Washbasin 

Cracked Washbasin, Google Images
Cracked Washbasin, Google Images

John Quincy and Louisa Adams observed their 50th wedding anniversary, a milestone almost unheard of in the mid-1800s. Before she died, Louisa presented her daughter-in-law Abby Adams with a cracked washbasin, symbolic of the naked faces bent toward it sometimes joyful and other times full of inconsolable pain, mirroring life itself. (444)

Want More Louisa?

Writer and editor Louisa Thomas has written a stunning account of a memorable woman entitled Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams, 2016.

LouisaBookCover

Thomas’ biography sings with color as she describes an incandescent sun on their approach to St. Petersburg, which edged “the statues with fire and [made] creamy walls blush.” (90)

You can read my full review here.


Your turn: Can you recall any other historical characters with moving stories?

One of your own to tell here? Go right ahead.

Coming next: Mother’s Sky View: The Beautiful City

Climbing the Swiss Alps: 7 Steps Toward a Narrative Arc

Events in our lives happen in a sequence in

time, but in their significance to

ourselves they find their own order . . . the

continuous thread of revelation.

—Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings

Writers find real life images to compare what happens as they mold life events into stories:

  • To fabric (thread and weaving)
  • To clay (molding a lump into a recognizable form)
  • To construction (building a house from the foundation up)

Finding the right shape for telling our story is a critical step in the memoir writing process. Writers call it the narrative arc.

Paging through a photo album of my trip to Switzerland, I have found another metaphor for structuring my memoir: Contours of the Swiss Alps

All photos: Marian Beaman
All photos: Cliff and Marian Beaman

Climbing the Alps fits with the theme and title of Journey of Memoir by Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner. “One of the most challenging aspects of writing a memoir, which of course is based on true and real events in your life, is to create a plot out of what happened.” (104)

I know my life story. I don’t have to make up events and characters. Through trial and error, I have decided that my theme is the quest for my true self as a sheltered Mennonite girl growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Still, I have to mold my tale into a story of transformation, one that will grip readers’ imagination and keep them turning the pages.

* * *

Aristotle affirms that every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end: Act One, Act Two, Act Three.

Stories that intrigue have conflict too. For example, when you saw a play like Our Town or Macbeth, you were transported into another world through exposition, rising action (the story builds), a crisis, a climax, and finally a resolution.

Crisis (all seems to be lost) Climax (major conflict narrator must resolve) Conclusion (epiphany - so that's it!)
Crisis at midpoint (all seems to be lost) Climax (major conflict narrator must resolve) Conclusion (epiphany – Ah,  so that’s it!)

 

My 7 Steps . . .

  1. I created a timeline of vivid memories in my life. This is how I hoped to arrive at my turning points, moments of significant change. As I drew, I thought in terms of chronology. What is my first memory? What stands out in elementary school? What family events pop up? Who looms large as a mentor? Answers to these questions could become turning points, I believed.

TimelineMemoir copy

  1. Then I thought about scenes. On colored stickies I randomly wrote phrases that came to mind. For example: The phrase “Daddy yodeling” could turn into a scene about my sisters and me taking turns singing with Daddy at the piano, relating to the impact of music upon my formative years.

TimelineStickies

ColoredStickies

3. Next I gathered random scenes into a sensible order.  Writers choose scenes based on how well they relate to their theme, the message of their memoir. For example, a theme can be traveling and what you learned on the journey, recovering from a challenging situation like an illness or abuse, or the struggles of becoming a chef. My own theme can be stated as a question: How can a girl from a sheltered and restrictive Mennonite culture find her place in an emerging new life?

A memoir is not an autobiography. I couldn’t include every detail of my entire life. I selected only those scenes that related to my theme. I write about this in a previous post.

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  1. Sometimes I felt stuck. Fatigue sets in on a long climb. Air is more rare as one moves into the higher altitudes (Alp-titude in Swiss terms). Sometimes I felt faint-hearted.

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  1. I constructed a narrative arc composed of scenes relating to my theme. A narrative arc can take several forms: curvy like a hill or jagged like the Swiss Alps.

The core of mine turned into an upside-down V-shape, rather like a peak in the Swiss Alps

AlpsOutline1997

W-StructureBoard copy

The sticky notes make it possible for me to move ideas around easily. In fact, I’ve moved some notes into a different order since the photo was taken.

6. I’ve printed out copies of drafts. As I’ve progressed, I’ve stored manuscripts in labeled folders on my computer desktop. But I’ve also printed out copies of my drafts from my laptop because I find it helpful to touch the pages and make marginal notes in colored ink. Pages in the binders feel book-like, real.

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7. I try to overlook messiness in my work space. Generally, I’m a neatnik, but worries about order, except in my writing, distract from my creative process.

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So, that’s where I am now!

I began with an impulse to tell my story which progressed from

Journals –>  Blog posts –>  Memoir Drafts

At the moment, I’m in the muddy middle, aiming to complete the journey across the Alpine-scape of memoir.

More to come . . .

 

How about you?

Have you made a similar journey with memoir? How would you chart your narrative arc? 

 

Coming next: Moments of Discovery, a Bubble, a Dome, a Mirror

Signs and Wonders: Chincoteague Island

Once upon a time, there were five memoirists who met online through their writing websites. One of them, Janet Givens, who had a rustic log house on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, invited four blogging friends to join her for a writers’ retreat: Kathy Pooler, Joan Rough, Shirley Showalter and me.

According to Janet, “It was grand.” At the end of the week, we all agreed. Now, you ask, what made the week so special?

First of all, the spacious log house was charming: LogHouseChico.VA

And there is an enclosed porch where we ate breakfast overlooking a canal and the shimmering Oyster Bay facing east.

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All around the house were clever or catty sayings on wooden plaques: GrumpySignSmokingFireSmokingMan

No one was voted off the Island. We all stayed!
No one was voted off the Island. We all stayed.

That’s right:  Everyone behaved!

As we began, we did have a plan to include the clichéd 3 F’s and a W: food, fun, fellowship – and writing, of course. In a joint effort, Shirley recorded on paper how our days might unfold.

ScheduleSHS

Every day, we enjoyed breakfast together, one day with French toast oven-baked by our host Janet with Joan beaming her blessing:  FrenchBread

Then we had writing time and do-it-yourself lunches with afternoons for more writing or walks.

Some days it was cold!   MarianKathyJoan

One fairly warm day, we all took a hike into the Assateague Preserve to see the world-renowned ponies, made famous by Marguerite Henry’s Misty Books. According to one friend’s pedometer, we logged about 3 miles walking the beach and side trails.

And we enjoyed the exhibit at the Visitors’ Center:PonySignExhibit

Other Days, we wandered along the main road in Chincoteague. As we explored, we found some interesting sights.PianoWrapped

And a mailbox replicating the house of the owner in the distance:

Mailbox replica of house behind
Mailbox replica of house behind

Every evening, we had healthy meals: Chicken chili, frittata, stuffed sweet potatoes, pasta fagioli. This night, Joan is helping Shirley serve broccoli soup with Waldorf salad.     KitchenCooks

After dinner from Tuesday – Saturday, we gathered on the comfy sofa and chairs close to the wood stove. From 7 – 9:30 one of us had the spotlight with an opportunity to get feedback on our writing or blogging. As a beginning memoirist, on Tuesday night, I got clarity about the focus for my story. Distributing a preliminary outline, I asked, “Where in all this muddle is my true story?” Happily, I got wise words from three women who’ve already published memoirs (Kathy, Janet, and Shirley) and one (Joan) with a book poised for publication.

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After struggling through revisions, my room-mate Kathy, gestures her approval of my story blurb and synopsis:

ThumbsUpKathy

On Sunday, our last full day together, we joined Janet at the Sundial Book store for her author talk/book signing.

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Afterwards we bought books and other gifts for our loved ones. Leaving the store, we spotted the theatre marquee across the street . . .

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. . . and behind the store, outsized LOVE chairs by the bridge. (Think Lily Tomlin dwarfed in a big chair here.)

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Finally, we gathered again to celebrate the productive week and our deepened friendships as we watched back-to-back episodes of Downton Abbey. As the week ended, we all wrote off into the sunset.

*  *  *

Our story, like Downton Abbey, proceeded in chronological time but with some flashbacks, like many good stories.

My version of The Week at Chincoteague is based on a variation of the story model by PIXAR, the moviemaker who tells perfect stories like Toy Story I and II. Since 1995, their storytelling wisdom has spawned many a tall/true tale. Yes, Shirley shared this link with me last week, which I pass on as a template for your own story. Here is the PIXAR prompt page.

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My husband Cliff designed the cover for our photo albums of the week:

Alternate Title:  Cinco Chinco Chiques
Alternate Title: Cinco Chinco Chiques

 

In today’s post title, I promised you a Wonder, and here it is: 

Standing:  Janet Givens, Kathy Pooler, Marian Beaman    Seated: Shirley Showalter, Joan Rough
Standing: Janet Givens, Kathy Pooler, Marian Beaman
Seated: Shirley Showalter, Joan Rough

 Five writers, none of whom had met all the others, retreat to a magical island for a WONDERful time, honing their writing skills and deepening friendships.


Click HERE for more information on how to reserve Janet’s log house for a writers’ retreat or your own family vacation!

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We love words! Share some of your thoughts here . . .  

 

Coming next: Purple Passages and a Weather Forecast

Shirley Showalter’s Memoir “Blush” – a Review & Book Giveaway

 
My Review

Shirley Hershey Showalter’s Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World sings the song of her early life as a Mennonite girl in 250 pitch-perfect pages. Born into a family of Lancaster County Swiss Mennonite parents, the author recounts the story of the first 18 years of her girlhood on an 100-acre dairy farm in the 1950s and early ‘60s. The book delivers in its promise to play out her memories of  school, church, and home, “the three legs of my childhood stool,” as she puts it. “Each carried both sweet and sour memories” of ways this plain girl fit in and ways she stood out as different.

Her melody line bravely hits the sharps and flats of her experiences. She grabs her reader by the hand to walk into their farm meadow as she and her brother Henry play amid the Holstein cows and fragrant bluebells by the creek on a cloudless, spring day. We learn secrets of good Pennsylvania Dutch cookery in her mother’s kitchen and are privy to recipes of delicious dishes in an appendix to the book. She lets us hear the congregation joyously singing hymns of the faith a cappella in 4-part harmony though in a sex-segregated sanctuary. But her song turns to a minor key as she vividly describes the sudden death of her infant sister, her by turns affectionate and adversarial relationship with her conflicted father, and later in a brush with a rigid Mennonite bishop.

This memoir abounds in artful motifs. In the preface the author is sitting on the sandstone steps on the way down to the arch cellar of The Home Place, now known as Forgotten Seasons Bed & Breakfast. She describes the arch in this cellar as the entrance to a storehouse of provision for her parents and grandparents against the want of the Great Depression and a bunker of bounty during the Cold War. Indeed, the book succeeds as documentation of major political currents and cultural icons of the era: Eisenhower and later Kennedy, the Studebaker Lark, the Phillies, Elvis. Other visuals include a map of the Lititz environs, her family tree, along with beloved family portraits and snapshots.

For me as a reader, the most endearing arch in her story is the rainbow in her mother’s invented story of “The Magic Elevator,” which she, a diarist and aspiring writer herself, wrote at age fifteen and has adapted for her children and grand-children through the years. Her mother, Shirley’s first mentor, challenged the norm in a story she recounts early in the book: Although the Rules and Discipline of the Lancaster County Mennonite Conference condemned worldly weddings, including carrying a bridal bouquet, Shirley’s mother Barbara Ann craftily transformed the family’s plain living room into a fancy bower of flowers and palms for the ceremony. After all, at church we sing fervently of beauty in “This is My Father’s World,” she must have reasoned. Evidently, Shirley was not the first Mennonite in her family with moxie.

Shirley’s story sings because it rings true. And, yes, Shirley, you did go home again. The Oh! at the center of her story leads readers to a fresh discovery of home, where one’s heart is nourished and where, as T. S. Eliot puts it, we can all “arrive where we started / And know the place for the very first time.”

“There are many ways to arrive at a place, many of them unimaginable at the beginning of the journey.”    BLUSH

Meet the Author:

Her Memoir – Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World

About Shirley

Shirley Hershey Showalter grew up on a family dairy farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She went on to become a Goshen College (IN) professor, then president, and then a foundation executive at the Fetzer Institute (MI).

Her childhood memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, has been published by Herald Press on September 19, 2013. Follow the journey of the book on her Facebook page and on her blog.

THE CONTEST

You can enter to win a copy of this book right now!

Here are the details:

WHAT:  Read my review of Shirley Hershey Showalter’s memoir: Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World and comment.

PRIZE:   One lucky commenter will win a copy of BLUSH

WHEN:  Review posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013

WHERE:  Right here on Plain and Fancy Girl

And all you have to do is show up, read my review and leave a comment.

The giveaway will close one week later on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 12:00 midnight. I will announce the winner here and by email. Only comments posted on this blog will count as an entry.

I invite you to come by and enter the contest by commenting on the review. Feel free to invite your reading friends!

Book Giveaway Contest & Taste of Shirley’s Memoir “Blush”

News Flash!

Upcoming Review and Book Giveaway of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets the Glittering World by Shirley Hershey Showalter

On Wednesday, September 25, I will be reviewing Shirley Hershey Showalter’s new memoir – Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets the Glittering World.

WHO IS SHIRLEY HERSHEY SHOWALTER?

Though Shirley and I both grew up Mennonite in the same county and in the same decade, our paths did not cross until I saw her website http://www.shirleyshowalter.com/ flashing across the screen in a class entitled What the Heck is a Blog? at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. I immediately recognized her name as Swiss Mennonite and probably of Lancaster County, PA origin. And sure enough, right on both counts. Since March 2013 we have become blogging pals, and I am thrilled to promote her book as the story of a life surprisingly parallel to mine, a story of derring-do!

DETAILS OF THE CONTEST:

 WHAT:  My review of Shirley Hershey Showalter’s memoir –  Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets the Glittering World.

 PLUS:   One lucky commenter will win a copy of BLUSH.

 WHEN:  Wednesday, September 25, 2013

 WHERE:  Right here on Plain and Fancy Girl

 And all you have to do is show up, read my review and leave a comment.

 The giveaway will close one week later on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 12:00 midnight. I will announce the lucky winner here and by email.

I invite you to come by and enter. Feel free to invite all your reading friends!

Shirley Hershey Showalter  Shirley Hershey Showalter, author of BLUSH: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World

I promise: you will be transported, says Bill Moyers of this memoir. Part Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, part Growing Up Amish, and part Little House on the Prairie, this book evokes a lost time, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, when a sheltered little girl with big dreams entered a family and church caught up in the midst of the cultural changes of the 1950s and `60s.
With gentle humor and clear-eyed affection the author, who grew up to become a college president, tells the story of her first encounters with the glittering world and her desire for fancy forbidden things she could see but not touch. The reader enters a plain Mennonite Church building, walks through the meadow, makes sweet and sour feasts in the kitchen and watches the little girl grow up. Along the way, five other children enter the family, one baby sister dies, the family moves to the home place. The major decisions, whether to join the church, and whether to leave home and become the first person in her family to attend college, will have the reader rooting for the girl to break a new path.  (Amazon Books)

Thirty Days Hath September: Memory and Memoir

 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.

Thirty Days Has September_12x12_72

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.

                                           Vladimir Nabokov

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. 

crayons

Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of years and all the miles and all the years we have lived.

                           Helen Keller

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!”

VictrolaOpen Similar to one Daddy had in his shop

Source: Rupp, Rebecca. Committed to Memory: How We Remember and Why We Forget.

rosemary

 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?