I Remember

“There is nothing stiff about memoir. It’s not a chronological pronouncement of the facts of your life: born in Hoboken, New Jersey; schooled at Elm Creek Elementary; moved to Big Flat, New York, where you attended Holy Mother High School. Memoir doesn’t cling to an orderly procession of time and dates, marching down the narrow aisle of your years on this earth. Rather it encompasses the moment you stopped, turned your car around, and went swimming in a deep pool by the side of the road. You threw off your gray suit, a swimming trunk in the backseat, a bridge you dived off. You knew you had an appointment in the next town, but the water was so clear. When would you passing by this river again?”

–Natalie Goldberg, from the introduction of Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir Memoir

Every day for the next week, use the prompt, “I remember….” This is one of Natalie Goldberg’s favorite prompts and one I give first to every new group of students I work with. You can write about one big memory or a lot of little memories. You can write about something that happened an hour ago, yesterday, last week, last month, last year or 40 years ago. Go for fifteen minutes. Then do it again tomorrow.

Comments

  1. Tempered Ashes says

    I can’t write about what to remember, because I want to forget. I want to forget about my past, my future–and even my present. I want to sit as the waited lady who never forgets but doesn’t want to remember. I will say this though, I do remember a lot. I remember the beatings and the 2 o’clock feedings. I remember what used to be but never was, and I remember what it felt like to be forgotten. I guess my memories aren’t very good right now–but that’s okay. I need to remember that it’s okay to feel bad, okay to use people and okay. I guess okay was something I don’t remember. Okay is okay.
    now that we’re okay lets try this:
    I remember one summer’s eve when I was riding a bicycle. A cute little girl in a cute little tube top and cute little shorts. I remember a cute little boy too. He was riding with me. We were trying to see how many times we could ride around the block. By the fourth or fifth go around, the neighbors joined in. “Oh, and can’t believe its you two again–what is that–eight, nine? And then ten, eleven and more. Perhaps we got to twenty or even thirty, which back then was quite a feat. I mean, hey–twenty times around the block–lets go for more!!!
    I remember wet summer nights with popsicles and ice.
    I remember wading through the darkness only to discover that I had been there all along.
    (I remember what it felt like to never go broke, but never really have any money either.)
    I remember the cast-aways and the woe-be-gones and the river of fields near our home.
    I remember what it felt like to play–and to not play.
    You know what–I guess I do remember some things but the ones that I don’t should be kept locked away. I keep trying to use the key but it keeps slipping out of my hands. I keep trying to turn the lock but my little girl arms are’t strong enough to turn it all the way. Now the key is stuck in the lock. Forever destined to remain there hanging like a twig that could crumble at any moment. hmmm, should I turn it and risk breaking the key all the way or should I just let it sit there?? maybe just turn it a little–very carefully until it either cracks or breaks off. that’ll decide it–turn, turning, turned! It opened, and it’s empty–nothing there. Just the red velvet bottom and the teeny tiny mirror on the other side of the box. hmmm-should I look in the mirror–or turn away?

  2. Pamela Papas says

    I remember riding in Gayle’s convertible top down Mercedes down Hwy 1, off at Morrissey, down palm tree LA type street on Friday afternoon 3:30pm. Sunny, warm, but not too warm, the feeling of freedom and elegance – after all it was a white Mercedes – la di da.
    And then talking- zig zagging on different subjects, girl style, stopping for gas, guy at next pump ogling at Gayle’s boobs. Then driving to Chaminade, first one way down Soquel Drive then oops wrong way, down the other way, where the hell is Paul Sweet turnoff?
    Oh yeah, found it, up to the grand grounds of the place – first time for me- and into the elegant bar with windows galore. Try 3 different white wines and settle on Pinto Grigio Bargetto. Fume Blanc Chateau St Jean (yum)and Storrs Chardonnay (yuk, but everyone likes it cause they’re local).
    Sit outside, 4:00pm at Chaminade, yakking and looking at expansive peaceful view.
    I remember moving six weeks ago from Los Gatos to Scotts Valley, Paul’s daughter Tori and what great company she is and how she helped us move every day for a week, came down, helped pack the kitchen, brought boxes down to storage her cheery update demeanor.
    I remember Tori’s delight in my giving her lots of silver from my first marriage; a silver tea set – full set with tray, creamer, 2 teapots, she has energy to polish plus it’s new for her. An “upgrade” as she sees it, her delight, 28 year old delight and excitement and gratitude.
    I remember how good that made me feel to declutter for me and find a good home in Tori.
    I remember last year at this time, August, I was preparing my first newsletter and after six months what a disaster waste of time and money no results cut your losses and stop.
    I remember being in New York City at age 10 for World’s Fair in 1962, going to top of….Empire State building and bumping into our next door neighbors from Venezuela! Venezuela – at the top of the Empire State! Wow! What a trip!
    Quelle coincidence! What serendipity where are they now?
    I remember bougainvillea and intense tropical colors of mangoes, papayas, avocados of Caracas my childhood home.
    The bright vibrant colors, the warmth and blue of the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Azul, warm sand. Tropical weather, but not too hot as Caracas is 1000 meters high in Andes mountains. The glorious mountain views.
    I remember owning lots of pretty gold jewelry and then it got stolen, gold orchid with pearl inside, bracelet with cacique and nut with gold on it, like charm bracelet, thick gold band, the three colors of gold.

  3. Emmerson says

    Truly fantastic article.

    I remember when I had the illusion of power.
    I remember when I was convinced that everything would alright, even great.
    I remember when I was safe.
    I remember when I believed in safety.
    And now, I remember that it felt good to remember, because there is so much that I don’t want to remember.

  4. Tammy Wade says

    I remember many things, some good, but mostly things that were not so good.

    I am standing in the middle of the street when I hear the wild dogs coming. I don’t understand why this place is so deserted. I can hear the dogs snarling and growling and I wonder how long I have before they catch up to me. I start to run as I look around frantically for a place to hide. There are only locked houses and empty storefronts here and nobody to help me. I need to find a place quickly before the dogs get to me. I look over my shoulder and I can see them barreling down the street towards me. There are so many of them and I run faster than I ever have in my life. I am trying not to trip and I just need to find safety quickly. Up ahead there are even more wild dogs and they start running towards me. They are everywhere and I know they will kill me if I don’t find a place fast.

    I spot a white house up ahead with the door cracked open. It doesn’t matter that it is not my house. All that matters is that I can get inside and shut the door on the vicious dogs that are getting closer and closer by the second. I cut across the lawn and I can almost feel the dog’s rabid breath on my heels. They are wild savage beasts and there are hundreds of them closing in on me. I reach the door within inches of my life and barely make it inside before I slam it closed on the wild dog’s snouts.

    The dogs have the house surrounded outside and I can hear them barking and clawing at the door and snarling viciously. I can see them through the window running back and forth trying to figure out how to get in to me. They look crazed and frantic. I look around for something to prop against the door because they are jumping against the door trying to knock it down. I find a chair and prop it under the handle. I am afraid to get too close to the door as if they will be able to reach in and grab me. I back up keeping an eye on the door. I feel trapped and I am terrified beyond belief.

    Before I realize what is happening I hear the crash of glass shattering and I see several large dogs have jumped through the window. I start screaming as the dogs clawed their way in through the door and window lunging for me with their teeth gnashing and tearing into my flesh as they reach me and I can feel their sharp teeth shredding my skin.

    I wake up from the nightmare trying to scream yet no sound will emerge from my throat. I am drenched in a cold sweat as I look around the bedroom and realize I am safe in my own bed and there are no wild dogs here. It’s the same recurring nightmare that I would live through time and time again.

    I knew I had to find out what the dream meant so that I could finally stop having these horrible nightmares. Little did I know that it was the beginning of my healing journey and awakening which turned out to be much much more. In the end, I discovered me, the true person I was always meant to be.

  5. Jean West says

    I remember my grandmother. I always knew her as Noni, although on the business card for the cabins she used to rent she was listed as Luisa. I remember the sound of her voice. My grandmother arrived from Italy in 1913 and there was too much work to do, and babies followed, for her to study English. So, she spoke Italian accented English, not like the stock characters of the old movies like Chico Marx, but a sausage mix if ever there was one. I could understand her, even if some of the guests couldn’t, but since most visitors were Italian born or first generation from New York City, it never mattered much. I remember her hands were quick, quicker than the eye. I am still trying to master the honey glaze she made, flawlessly, every Easter for the fried dough balls we call struffoli. I watched her make it, can see the hand in my mind’s eyes as she grabbed a china teacup from a shelf and scooped out sugar with it into the water in the skillet. She worked in the garden every summer morning, early, before the heat grew too intense, and I remember hugging her and feeling the moisture of her sweat. I giggle remembering her passion for bread. Friends would bring fresh baked specialties up from the city; for some reason she would tie the plastic bags to the knobs of her dining room table chairs. I didn’t ask her why and now I can’t. But I did ask her about how she came to America, when she was already around 90. She promptly gave me the name of the ship, a fortuitous one for an Italian Catholic: Madonna. She knew the month and year of their arrival which, years later, made it possible to find the ship’s passenger list with her name and my grandfather’s.

    I remember the first time one of the children I know acknowledged me. I’ve been a school volunteer for years at my daughter’s former elementary school, providing social studies enrichment in grades K-5. Whenever I walk down the loggia, I’m greeted by a chorus of different voices calling out “Mrs. West!” Intermittently, depending on staffing, I’ve been asked to present in the special education classes, and the kids staffed into those classes have always greeted me. All except for one little girl who I knew to be moderately autistic. For three years, I always treated her like the other kids, let her hold and touch artifacts, but there was never a word of interaction. I accepted it as part of her condition. Then, one day, rushing to class like the White Rabbit…always late… I approached her on the loggia as an aide was accompanying her back to her classroom. Clear as a bell, she called out, “Mrs. West!” I stopped in my tracks. “Hi, E***r! Thank you for saying hello!” It was the first time she greeted me, a banner day—but not the last. She had begun the process of interacting with people and had given me a precious gift, to be one of the chosen ones.

    (In honor of Saturday being dedicated to setting up my new laptop since the keyboard is dying on my old one and, horrors, the letter “e” has fallen off and cannot be put back on—what is a writer to do?!) I remember my first home computer. It was a Kaypro. Never heard of it? It was one of many early computer companies in the home PC market. It’s long extinct, along with Zeos, which produced its successor. I can remember the small store in Vienna, Virginia where I bought it. It had the big old 4-inch or so floppy disks, enough manuals to fill a horizontal yard on my bookshelf, and I got to choose between an amber screen and the green display which I picked. As a writer, the joy for me was the word processing program. I had a fairly new IBM Selectric typewriter, a model that had a white correction tape integrated into it, but this…this meant I could change whole passages, not just a few words. O’ the joy! Mind you, there was a command sequence to initiate cut, and a command sequence to initiate paste, but you could cut and paste, and what a blessing that was since I’m a very recursive writer, looking back every few sentences or paragraphs, re-reading what I’ve written and editing it. Then, there was “insert” which opened up a whole new world. Oh, thinking back on it, as I write this on the latest version of Word, wysiwyg (does anyone today realize that means ‘what you see is what you get’) view, I realize how clunky it was. Even then, I continued for a dozen years drafting all important compositions by hand on a legal pad. But, as I composed more letters, more material on the computer, I grew more comfortable with composing on keyboard, rather than on paper. I’ve fully made the jump, although I live with post-its with jot notes and ideas. Oddly, I’ve had Hewlett Packard printers all along and only one has ever “died,” although the side sprocket feed one became obsolete. Yes, I remember how the first printer papers had to be spooled through and when it printed, the paper came out like an accordion. There was always a lot of tearing along the edges, especially the sprocket strips. They made for great confetti, though!
    I remember the taste of wild berries from the property in Duchess County that belonged to my mother’s family. My uncle Dan owned a driving range and first thing in the morning, we’d go out with a tube to collect the golf balls from the field. There was one area where a ring of mushrooms used to grow, and it really felt as if it were a fairy ring, for nearby there were wild strawberries. They were not the mega-berries grown commercially today, no bigger than my thumbnail, a pinkish red on the outside and usually white on the inside, but sugary sweet. My grandmother had a garden, but we used to pick wild blueberries. Again, they were small as peas, but had an intense flavor, unlike the much larger ones you get in the store but which taste watery. The birds got their fair share, but there were plenty for breakfast. There were a few too many for me, for one time I gorged myself picking and gave myself an upset stomach. Not to gross anyone out, but the vomit left a blue stain.
    Another day, another memory. I remember the day John F. Kennedy died. I was living in Amarillo, Texas and was a fifth grader at Coronado Elementary School. It was a lovely November day, bright sunshine. There was no enjoying it because we were inside taking a test. To be precise, it was a grammar test, diagramming sentences. Oh, what a pain in the neck, diagramming. In this case, it was a test within the textbook. Chapter tests were on pink pages, don’t ask me why pink rather than green or blue or yellow. We’d just begun the test when the PA box crackled and an egg commercial blared in our classroom. It was impossible not to giggle, although our teacher, Mrs. Poppy, gave the PA box a quelling look and then the class. We settled back into our diagrams directly only to have something equally startling happen. Our principal, Dr. Lane, knocked on the door and beckoned our teacher into the hallway. He was a young man, but formal, and in over three years, I’d never seen him come to any classroom. Mrs. Poppy reentered the classroom and said in a soft, sad voice, “Dr. Lane believes you are old enough to know what has happened. The president has been shot. Put away your tests and pray for him.” There were gasps and a slapping together of pages and fumbling away of books. Leann, the girl in front of me, pulled a chain from inside her blouse, with a cross and clasped her hand around it in prayer. I silently offered Hail Marys and Our Fathers, alternating between them rather than rosary style. It was perhaps ten or fifteen minutes later when Dr. Lane returned to our door. Mrs. Poppy announced, “President Kennedy is dead.” She went to her desk, sat, and tears slid down her cheeks. I was stunned. The president, dead? That only happened in history, like to Abraham Lincoln. What would we do? What would I do? All was silence.
    I remember trying to be cool in junior high school. It was the mid-sixties, the era of mini-skirts, Yardleys of London lip slickers, and psychedelic colors. My mother, a very traditional Italian-American, had no intention of allowing me to “look like a tramp.” Since I was on a 50-cent a week allowance and there were no nearby stores nor transportation to the distant ones, I was at the mercy of her uber-conservative clothing choices. They say necessity is the mother of invention, but they never said the inventions were brilliant. I would roll my skirt bands over a couple of times to get it up over the knee, but the hem-line was, shall we say undulating (not to mention the tire on the waist?) When the school bus happily altered its evening route with a stop near my father’s office, I seized the opportunity to get off, go to Sears and there, with my hoarded allowance, purchase a tube of the ever-so-hip Yardleys lipstick. It was a frosty pink, so very different from the 1950s crimson my mother wore! Of course, I only wore it at school and licked and blotted it off before coming home! Whatever hipness points I may have scored there were lost, no doubt, with my attempt at a psychedelic combo. I had a blue shirt with big white polka-dots and collar—something like the Monkees wore on their show, if you stretched the imagination. Since stripe and dots were “in” I combined the shirt with a green and navy striped woolen skirt. Not a good match of colors or mix of textures and that wool was brutal in my hot, non-air-conditioned Virginia middle school, but what was a teen to do?
    And to conclude a week of memories…I remember the first time Death turned my life upside down. I was in junior high school and my father was on a business trip in the Middle East. We got the call early in the morning that my mother’s brother, my Uncle Eddie, had died. Mom fell apart, but Lena, one of the neighbors in the apartment building, made chamomile tea for her, a very traditional Italian remedy to calm the nerves, and we put our heads together to try to get word to Dad and find a way from Washington, D.C. to Fishkill, New York that did not involve Mom behind a steering wheel. The two objectives merged together when she talked with one of Dad’s co-workers, Abe. Soon the Bureau of Mines’ secretary was working on intercepting Dad in Jordan and flying him to New York for the funeral while Abe volunteered to arrange bus transportation for us. Abe was born in Iran, but spoke fluent English. However, even a PhD in geology can be brought to a complete standstill by the name “Poughkeepsie.” Fortunately, Abe was able to get us on Greyhound from the D.C. station to the Port Authority in New York City, and then via a smaller local line from the city to Fishkill. We arrived at the small bus stand late that evening, but fell into the arms of our family. The relief of being reunited was tempered by our grief and the loss that had brought us together. I was stunned to see my aunts in mourning black and my weeping grandmother—a widow, she’d always been a tower of strength, and that drove home how profoundly my world had been turned upside down. I’d never been to a funeral home, never seen a corpse, and certainly not one of someone who I’d known. It was almost surreal to me, the weeping and the prayers. I felt too grown up, too soon. Thankfully, Dad arrived before the funeral, and I could shift the burden of sustaining Mom to him. The funeral service was Catholic, and Dad and I never could abide the clouds of incense they used—and were located closest to the censor through the funeral, nearly choking on it. Then it was down Ver Planck Avenue to the cemetery and burial at the family monument where my grandfather had been laid to rest thirty years earlier. I remember the wake at my aunt’s home, her weeping inconsolably in the study room of the big Victorian where they had moved only a few years earlier but also meeting my cousin’s wife and seeing their baby. I heard how delighted my Uncle Eddie was by his grand-daughter and was glad there was some life and joy in that gloomy house of woe.

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