Memory is Full of Holes

“I must say a few words about memory. It is full of holes. If you were to lay it out upon a table, it would resemble a scrap of lace. I am a lover of history…[but] history has one flaw. It is a subjective art, no less so than poetry or music…The historian writes a truth. The memoirist writes a truth. The novelist writes a truth. And so on. My mother, we both know, wrote a truth in The 19th Wife—a truth that corresponded to her memory and desires. It is not the truth, certainly not. But a truth, yes…Her book is a fact. It remains so, even if it is snowflaked with holes.”

— David Ebershoff, The 19th Wife

Natalie Goldberg always talks about the importance of exploring the underbelly of a prompt, it’s opposite. I completely agree. Alternate these two prompts each day for a week:

I remember

I don’t remember


  1. Jean West says

    Tuesday: I remember my first memory before I turned three, after Dad had gone ahead of us to Venezuela and we’d rented out our own home. I remember the office at my aunt and uncle’s which was converted to a bedroom for me when we moved in with them. I my mind’s eye I can recall the walls were bare, no pictures hanging on them as there would be in later years. And I can hear my Mom’s voice prompting me as I memorized the Lord’s Prayer. Some years ago there was a study that linked early memories to word activities such as memorization, and I’ve always thought there was merit to it based on my own experience (L. Baker-Ward, 1984.)
    Wednesday: I don’t remember our arrival in Venezuela on the ship the Santa Rosa and the reunion with my Dad. It strikes me as odd because I have vivid memories of the departure from New York, including having photographs taken by relatives on the promenade deck. One of my most jarring memories was as the ship was pulling out of its slip, seeing my grandmother and aunts and uncles on the dock and thinking that they were supposed to catch the festive streamers so they wouldn’t be left behind. I even have a memory of our cabin, how it was laid out to the right of the door, and our cocker spaniel’s traveling crate was on the left side, halfway to our bunk beds. But I have no memory whatsoever of our arrival.
    Thursday: I remember arriving at Gloria’s Campo Allegre in Caracas, Venezuela for my first day of school, which was nursery school. Mom held my hand as we passed between the play area and descended the hill to the classrooms. I had started the day with a sweater, but it was getting warm so Mom tied it around my waist.
    Friday: I don’t remember my first day of school in kindergarten, at Underhill Elementary School in White Plains, New York. On the other hand, I have perfect recollection of my first day in a new school, in second grade, at Wolflin Elementary in Amarillo, Texas.
    Saturday: I remember my first piece of pizza. My great aunt had given me a Peanuts comics book from her shop in Beacon, New York. As we drove home to White Plains, I read the comics. However, I saw a word I didn’t recognize: pizza. In the strip, Snoopy was having mad cravings for pizza. I was a first grader, so asked my parents what the word meant. They were astonished I didn’t know what it was (all the more embarrassing since my mother is Italian-America) and so, about half a mile from home, we pulled in to the Silver Lake Pizza parlor. It was the late 50s so the linoleum tables sported juke boxes. I read the titles to kill time. When the pizza arrived it was hot and gooey, and at first bite, I knew exactly why Snoopy had such mad cravings for it.
    Sunday: I don’t remember the interior of the cathedral in Caracas, only the exterior. I recall putting on gloves and my mother bobby-pinning a small lace veil in my hair since it was the custom to cover your head in church in the 1950s. I also remember people in the plaza in front of the cathedral after mass, men in white suits, even a young girl who was performing a flamenco style dance. But the inside of the building is a complete blank.
    Monday: I remember my daughter’s birth. I had only a light analgesic, either because I have a high tolerance for pain or because she was an easy birth. My water broke at home around three in the morning and she arrived just after 9 a.m. It was a calm drive to the hospital, the only oddity being white sheets hanging across from it saying “Get Well, Joe,” since Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was at Arlington Hospital for a double compound fracture he’d suffered in the Sunday game and my daughter was born Monday. She arrived with a cry and was tiny and pink…and then swept off because there was concern she might have had inhaled meconium. Thankfully that was not the case and now, almost 26 years later, I have a sweet, smart, beautiful daughter who is also my best friend.

  2. Ginger Fernandez says

    Bits & Pieces

    A recovered memory of my mother filled me with such sadness and pain. Like every other day I was following mother around the house trying to get her attention. Tugging at her skirt I called out, “Mama… mama.” She looked down back over her shoulder at me rolled her eyes and growled, “What do you want.” “Look Mama; see what I did” jumping around holding a drawing of her I just finished.
    She angrily yanked her skirt from my hand and shrieked as she shoved me back from her, “Let me go! I don’t want no black ass baby running around in behind me calling me Mama. Get the hell on away from me.”
    Surprised I dropped her skirt from my hand and went scurrying across the room to the sofa. I fell upon it and began to sob uncontrollably.
    I have no recollection of what happened after that, but it reinstates a feeling of twinge of despair into the memory of mother daughter relationships.

  3. Pamela Papas says

    I remember being made to feel small by my parents and can’t remember who else.
    I remember not remembering anything important.
    I remember being yelled at, put down, diminished, mocked, humiliated.
    I liked ballet and was good at it. Nothing but mockery from the men in the family. My mother who began having me take piano and ballet and French lessons, simply a tepid support, oh yes you must learn these skills so you can become a civilized creature and not embarrass me and be able to catch a suitable husband.
    I swear to God I was paraded as so much “meat” before my parents’ friends, and their sons, some of them nerdy and awful, and the cool handsome ones never seemed to like me although I yearned for them from afar.
    I remember thinking well, this is the way it is. Life is like this, sheer utter crap, and I remember feeling powerless – this is what the fates have dealt me and it did not even occur to me in the slightest itty, bitty notion that I in any way shape or form had the power, the brains, the will, the self-respect, self-esteem to change things.
    At seven or eight, I remember this is the way I felt always.
    I became and “A: student and excelled in whatever I could and still felt empty.
    So I read a lot to escape. Felt empty as a child, teenager, young adult, and older adult.
    Is this all there is?

  4. Pamela Papas says

    I don’t remember the sun shining on my face when I woke up in the morning.
    I don’t remember the misery I felt when my pink bedroom was torn up to fix a bleeding pipe malfunction.
    I don’t remember hearing the words “I love you” when growing up.
    I don’t remember any words of kindness in my family.
    I don’t remember soft, gentle, round, circular words or voices.
    I don’t remember the clattering on the terrazza floors.
    I don’t remember feeling calm when I was small
    I don’t remember feeling very tall.
    I don’t remember feeling happy enough to dance
    I don’t remember any shades of green on our pants
    I don’t remember anything of note
    I don’t remember a broken wheel or a spoke
    I don’t remember any virtual folk who would sit down and impart their wisdom like what’s it like to be an adult in this world?
    What lessons in humanity could they impart to me ‘cause Lord know no one here (in the home) had the faintest notion of humanity.
    I don’t remember a kind word here and there
    I don’t remember any kindnesses to spare
    I don’t remember inhaling deeply the fresh air
    I remember only feeling I’m going nowhere
    tap dancing as fast as I can.
    I don’t remember anyone saying they cared
    I don’t remember falling down the stairs
    I don’t remember, well I don’t remember anything of note
    I do remember harshness and sharpness and being told to straighten up and fly right or else
    But I was already doing that wasn’t I?
    There was nowhere to fly, to skip, jump, be a little crazy lest they call you lazy good-for-nothing you’re an embarrassment to us after all we’ve done for you.
    How could you?

  5. Laura Davis says

    Dear Pamela, thanks for your post. I hope you’re building new memories as well–memories that feed you rather than make you feel as if you belong. The past we cannot change, but it’s our lives now.

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