Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Gift of Memory

I must have been about 4 years old because we were living in that big old 4 story house in Akron, Ohio. My brother and I were greatly anticipating a trip to King's Island with some friends, when we woke up to rain. My dad's response to our wailing about the weather was to get down on his knees with us and pray with us for sunshine. A few hours later, he came into our play room and sat us down by the window.
"Look at my hand. What do you see?"
"Uh... lines?"
We studied his outstretched palm, completely at a loss. Then he took a our fingers and traced the slant of a ray of light that was falling across his hand.
"Sunlight!" We jumped up and down and danced around. Our trip wasn't ruined after all. We hugged our dad and told him thank you.
"I don't think it's me you need to thank." He told us and quietly left the room.

I doubt if my father were alive today, he would even remember this ever happened. I doubt my brother remembers it, either. It was just another day at our house. I suppose if my dad had never talked to us like that, it would have seemed strange and stood out, but we were used to his object lessons, his frank practice of faith, and his showing us how to live by faith, not just preaching it at us. As we grew older, the lessons became larger, clearer, but at the same time, less overt. It was still just who he was, who we were in relation to him and part of how we interacted.

There is always a lot of talk this time of year about "making memories". My immediate and oh-so-mature reaction to that sort of talk is "you can't make me!" But really. You can't. Think back across the span of your years to the memories that stand out to you the most. Are they the ones that are gussied up with bows and shiny paper? Are they the ones that were carefully orchestrated events? Sometimes they are. But probably, mostly they're not. The dearest memorable moments to me are of everyday life. Small mental snapshots of moments of presence. And, because I am human, not all of my memories are good. Stuff sticks with us. A lot of times it's random stuff. Stuff that has a particular color or smell or glow or feel to it. Stuff that takes less than a second to think about, but can flood you with longing or joy or heartbreak.

My old cell phone ring = sick with grief
Theme song to Magnum P.I. = my mom, green shag carpeting and popcorn
Pancake restaurants = the birth of my daughter
Dave Matthews' Satellite = dancing, warmth, vacuuming the ceiling, safety in the midst of chaos
Season Six of the West Wing = labor with my son
The smell of canned soup = being 4 and visiting an old lady friend of mine, feeling independent and older than my years
C.K. One = Halloween, drag queens, pumpkins, coffee, intense friendship, feeling lost
Coffee = home, my Chief Lou, laughter
Honeysuckle = intense loneliness
A certain brand of scented candle = my sister
Leather and old books = my dad

These are only a few off the top of my head. A handful that I can even describe in any sort of meaningful way. At no point in my young life, did my mom sit down and decide that we would "make a memory" by watching Magnum P.I. together every Thursday night. But that memory is sweeter and stronger than any of my young Christmases combined. In large part because my mom was relaxed, doing something she enjoyed, unselfconscious, and doing it with me. I felt so grown up and included when she would comment about how handsome Tom Selleck was (even if he did have such a high voice, according to her). She wasn't sighing and  stressing in the kitchen, trying to make everything perfect. There wasn't a house full of company to entertain, there were no extra chores to be done. Nobody was looking, we could just be.

One of my favorite memories of my husband is not from our wedding, or even from the births of our children. It's from a time I sent him to the grocery for a gallon of milk. He called me from the store to tell me that right near the dairy section they were selling those huge rolls of raffle tickets and would I like him to pick one of those up, too? Please? Please? Just thinking about it makes me all warm and fuzzy. The gratitude I felt immediately that I lived with a man who understood me so well. The deep appreciation for the absurd, my abiding love of off-the-wall office supplies, and the knowing just how delighted I would be to own that big red roll of tickets for no reason at all other than to tear them off at random and play with them, possibly raffling things off to members of the family when it struck my fancy, and then taking the time to call me from the store to share all of that with me in just a few silly words.

I have no idea what will stick with my monkeys when they are grown. I sincerely hope it's not how I injured myself by getting tangled in my jeans and falling on my head the other day. But if it is, that's OK. Because that's definitely part of who I am: klutzy and strange and finding pants problematic sometimes. And because I know that anything we do together is possible memory fodder. I'm less anxious about making memories with them than I am about living memorably with them. Then it will be up to them what their wonderful memories of childhood are.


  1. This is so sweet. Your Dad sounds like a great guy.

    One of my favorite memories of my husband is when I was trying to teach him to pop his gum. We were driving along I-15 somewhere between Salt Lake City and the Idaho state line and while I was driving, I told him "stretch the gum across your teeth and sort of suck in." He tried. suck ... suck ... THOOP ... cough, cough ... I guess I'd forgotten to tell him the gum goes on the OUTSIDE of the teeth!

    One of my clearest memories of my Mom is staying home from school one day watching soap operas and eating pickles & malted milk balls. I had no idea why it was good until 20 years later and I had a fierce PMS attack. Everything clicked with that memory then.

  2. What a lovely post! I felt like I was right there watching the scene with your father, you decsribed it so well. One of my first childhood memories is of sitting on my Grandfather's lap (he died when I was 4) and of his giving me warm, sticky smarties from his vest pocket, that he had been saving for me.

  3. This is just gorgeous and so, so true. So often we spend so much time and energy on the Big Moments and overlook the fact that it's really the little moments that stick with us and really help to make us who we are.

  4. My mom raised nine of us, and one of my most cherished memories is how she used to find time on Christmas Eve, every year, to make the Christmas morning coffee cake, while "sighing and stressing in the kitchen, trying to make everything perfect." Well, every year, it seemed, she'd end up "cremating" the coffee cake, not terribly, but just a tad. The ongoing joke was to what degree the coffee cake was cremated. We were smart enough to recognize, that she didn't make it for herself, and it was still vastly surpassing excellent..

  5. This is such a poignant post. You create terrific images and make me want to write about memories. I actually do often thing about how the little things become the big memories and how we don't' know which of the little daily things will end up as treasured memories. Why is it, for example, that one particular summer afternoon when I was ten and playing in a backyard pool lodges in my memory? Nothing special about that day but it stays with me. Thanks for sharing this. I look forward to reading more from you.

  6. And, ps, I am really drawn to your whatever you call it : Out of the corner of your eye is where the magic happens. LOVE it.

  7. I really needed to read this post today so thank you for sharing it with your readers. I get too caught up in staging the perfect activities with my kids, in the hopes that it will cause them to have happy memories of their childhood but you are so right. It's not the perfect moments that they'll probably remember and that's okay.

  8. So very true. My parents cringe when I say that my most memorable Christmas was the year my dad was out of work. It was a horrible year for them, but to me, it was still magical and memorable.

  9. No, I'm not crying. I just have something stuck in my eye.

    Fine. I'm crying. Good work. :)

    PS mongused

  10. Wow! Thanks, all for all of the kind words and sharing your memories, too!
    @Mark and sebtown294 - Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading!
    @Helene - Your comment made my day. Thank you.
    @Jane - It's probably just a centipede in your eye. ;) Mongused!

  11. Oh, and @Jewels - I hear you. My favorite Christmas is when I totaled our car a week before T-giving and then we had a giant snowstorm, so we had to do everything on foot. Perfect, snuggly warm pace.


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