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Posts Tagged ‘memories’

Circles, I’m popping circles into my mouth. I’m addicted to Trader Joe’s bucket of miniature chocolate chip cookies. I couldn’t figure out why they tasted so good. It was Liz who piped up, “Oh, it’s the butter…” when she read the label after dinner.

Circles in cubes, the rubber bottom of a stainless steel coffee cup, the “O” in coffee, the round plastic tubs of binder clips, primary colors, the paper Caribou coffee cup that holds the pens and Sharpie Accents in florescent yellows and greens. The round knob on the navy gray lighthouse on the mouse pad.

Circles connect.

Watching a show about brains. Men’s brains. Women’s brains. They said men are linear and women are circular. It was the Good Question on one of the news channels. Do men like tech gadgets better than women? Do they buy more tech gadgets than women?

It might seem like it. But that’s all changed. Women are within a few percentage points of men in their cravings for high tech. The survey asked women, “Would you rather have a diamond or a new I-Pod or Palm?” Women are choosing technology, growing up with it. And if you really think about it, technology allows them to stay better connected and that’s really what circles are all about – connection.

The metal sprinkler head with grooved sprockets above my head. The smell swiftly pouring out of the slate paint can on the floor outside the cube. You can get high from that smell. I had to walk outside; my eyes are burning.

The roundness of Sun. Moon. Mercury and Mars. The roundness and curves of a woman’s body. The spokes on my first bike, with two playing cards, Aces, hearts & spades, clothes-pinned to the wheel. Wait, how did we do that? Were they clothes-pinned to the wheel or the spoke? I can’t remember now. The picture that comes up isn’t accurate. I can’t keep typing and scrutinize the image in my mind at the same time. So I keep writing.

Labyrinths are circles. But they are not mazes. You don’t get lost in a labyrinth. It’s impossible to get lost in a labyrinth. The way in leads to center. The way out leads to an open door.

The Blistex DCT lip balm in an orangish pink container next to the keyboard. The mole above Liz’s upper lip. The underbelly of a sow. The eyes of Mr. StripeyPants; Chaco’s are slitted and green, not as round. And Kiev’s are more oval. If I think about it.

And that’s what writing topics do, force you to think about the world in circles or squares or ovals. In do’s and don’ts and what if’s.

The wrinkled trunk on the ash tree outside the deck. The number 10. The sold sign in the window. The Goodyear tires on the ancient Camry. The barrel of a loaded gun…I don’t own one. But my friend wants to go to the shooting range and try our luck on the targets.

That reminds me of the day my mother shot the glass top off of some kind of antenna outside my grandfather’s house. Geez, she must have been only 20 something. What was I? Maybe 8 or 9? The guys in the family dared her, said she couldn’t shoot. Guess what, she could. And I wonder if she remembers it? Or did I make it all up?

We drove by my grandfather’s house last time I was in Georgia. The house is in S.C., horse country. But there it stood, just the way I remembered it, but older. Round, tall pecan trees and the long porch with wrought iron rails. Houses in the fifties were long and sprawling. The more land you had to spread out on, the better. It seems like they shoot up these days. But I am drawn to the wide open sprawling spaces and simple forms of Scandinavian Design and teak and birch and cherry, all those woods that are probably endangered now.

I like sleek but comfortable. Not much frill but strong. I like a strong that is round, not a strong that is hard-bodied and inflexible. Now I’m thinking of the Buddha belly that is large and round, the stomach of a Laughing Buddha, and just at that moment, the circular clock ticks its last tock, the battery is dead.

Not to worry, I saw a Sundog in the sky yesterday, ice crystals circling the Sun, impossibly animated and frozen in time. More energy on the way.


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – CIRCLES

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I know it’s my all-time favorite Crayola color, a blue infused with white, a touch of red. I don’t know what a cornflower is, but from the name I imagine it to grow in wide fields somewhere in the vicinity of Iowa. I picture it to be small with wispy petals, blue-purple, and yellow eyes. Like purple aster. A poor man’s flower. An everyman’s flower.

Cornflower was the color I picked to paint a New Mexico sky. As a child I didn’t think “New Mexico sky” or “Washington, DC sky.” Sky was sky. There was no sense of this place or that place. I only knew where it was I came from — New Mexico dirt, scrub oak, piñon, extreme wind, extreme heat and cold, a crisp blue sky almost always.

Midnight Blue was my night sky color. Midnight. Crayola gave me the cues to know which colors to pick. Flesh. Pine Green, which I saved for piñon trees, but then the darker Forest Green was confusing; didn’t piñons grow in forests? I used Melon for fruit, Turquoise Blue for the bracelet on Grandma’s wrist.

I never understood the raw colors, Raw Sienna and Raw Umber. Why raw? They were shades of brown, and the browns threw me off the most. Sepia and Mahogany, even Maroon was a sort of brown.

But Cornflower, Cornflower didn’t give me any signals. Nothing but the color of the waxy crayon tip to tell me where to put it on my page. I was a tidy artist, one to stay inside the lines. Dad’s accounting sensibility rubbed off on me. He once put a drawing of mine into his briefcase and took it to work.

I colored to please my father, colored because I could produce something tidy, clean, literal at the end of the exercise. Something to march home and show: this is me, me being you, this is you.

Everything I know about Cornflower I learned by fifth grade. I learned it was good to be an enigma, something defiant of a label.

In the box of Crayola crayons, the big boxes with the colorful sticks laid out in rows, one row on top of another on top of another, the world was divided into clusters. My red tones here, my brown tones next, yellows and greens residing side by side. Blues were calm, Cerulean, Midnight Blue, its cousin Navy, Turquoise Blue almost too bright for its peer group.

But Cornflower, that amazing plant growing in the wide Iowa plains, Cornflower was the calmest of colors. Not a still sea with who knows what churning under the surface. Not a night where things might appear, vague and menacing. But a clear, crisp sky. A home, a place, a moment.


-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT THE COLOR BURNT SIENNA…

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I had a hard time choosing one color, the way I have a hard time choosing anything. When I looked over the list of Crayola colors, I realized I must have had a 64 box of crayons because it would have been impossible in my age range to grow up with a box with 80 or 120 colors. I couldn’t choose between Mahogany or Goldenrod, two of the colors I used the most. My skies were a combination of Midnight and Periwinkle blue. The lines I drew between sky and earth – Black.

But Mahogany – Mahogany was the color of the table in Mom’s dining room in South Carolina. The table would be buffed and shined with a layer of S.C. Johnson’s Pledge wax. The chairs were ornate curls at the backrest, with what I remember to be red-striped, satin seat coverings. It’s another detail I have forgotten to ask Mom about, the history of that table.

I remember family gatherings there by the windows, Grandmama with her pearls and white chrysanthemum clip-on, costume earrings, light streaming in from the carport where my brother, J, once fell off his trike, reaching for a glass jar, and slit his wrist. Mom and my step-dad recalled the memory when I was visiting in June, how my step-dad grew faint from all the blood. And that’s what I remember, blood, all that blood. But it was Brick Red, the blood, more than Mahogany.

And Goldenrod reminds me of a mustard seed, the name of a restaurant in Missoula, and the wheat fields of North Dakota and eastern Montana. But mostly, I like the name Goldenrod. I used to choose colors based on the names as much as the hue and tone. And what happened to Indian Red? They changed the name in 1999 so as not to be offensive.

Like the Burnt Sienna comment about the color Peach and Lillie Belle Allen and how flesh can’t be defined by race. And now I’m thinking of the over 100 different colors for flesh that I saw at a Minnesota Science Museum exhibit about a study in Brazil on skin color. And later I looked it up and found an article that listed all the colors, names created by the people themselves.

But the mustard seed – Goldenrod reminds me of the parable, was it Matthew, Mark or Luke? And how giant things can grow from a single mustard seed. Or what about the Buddha’s story of the mother whose son died. She wanted a medicine to bring him back to life. And the Buddha said to gather a handful of mustard seeds from homes where no one had lost a child, husband, parent, or friend.

And when she found no home untouched, she realized that death comes to us all. We will all experience loss and grief. And she buried her son in the comfort of that knowledge. Community. Sangha.

And now I’m thinking about Brick Red and the scary movie I watched last night, Skeleton Key. It was set in New Orleans swamp country in an old plantation. About hoodoo and how drawing a line of red brick dust between you and your enemies keeps them away. In the movie, it worked, and there were layers of history and giant draping trees (what kind were they?) on a wide canopied, dirt road leading up to the antebellum home.

And then another movie called Practical Magic, with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. And I turned to Liz and said, “Someday I want the practical magic of a movie room with Bose speakers built into the ceiling and a huge, high def, flat screen TV on the wall. And a comfy monstrous couch that soaks up your body with fluff and throw pillows.” And she smiled back at me, then we turned to watch the rest of the movie in which Sandra Bullock gets her man, one eye green, one eye blue.

And now I’m wishing that life were more like the movies where everything works out. But then, everything does work out in one way or another. The things I can’t control, well, that’s the Serenity Prayer. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

And now I’m back to Goldenrod and Mahogany and don’t the two colors look nice together? The mustard seed and the brick dust and the family dining room table in South Carolina all meld into one memory. Which is real, which imagined?

I didn’t write everything I know about Mahogany or Goldenrod. I wrote everything.

Dancing Crayons, photo of an illustration of a tablet given to me by a writing friend, December 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Dancing Crayons, photo of an illustration of a tablet given to me by a writing friend, December 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Dancing Crayons, photo of an illustration on a tablet given to me by a writing friend (tablet published by Carson-Dellosa Publishing), December 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, December 09, 2007

-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT THE COLOR BURNT SIENNA…

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I have a picture in my head of Mom. She’s wearing soft denim shorts to just above her knees. Her hair is in curlers, a red bandana tied around the curlers, a cigarette on her lip. Next to her, on the floor, is a flat metal ashtray, the kind that folds like tin when you bend it. We are both sitting on a rug in front of the TV. She’s watching Another World. Mom likes the plain-looking older woman, Ada, but not Rachel, Ada’s daughter. I’m not allowed to talk while the action is taking place; fortunately, commercials come on every few minutes.

Mom watches Another World every day at this hour, shortly before our nap and right after our lunch. She only superficially follows As the World Turns and General Hospital. General Hospital is the hottest thing going on in soap opera drama, but Mom has never been one to follow trends. It is Ada and Rachel she is faithful to.

This particular day Mom has a basket of clothing by her side, and like one of those chowders you buy nowadays that comes in a bowl made of bread, Mom’s basket of clothing never seems to get all the way down to the bottom. She folds, smokes, watches TV. Smokes, watches TV, folds again.

I have had this memory before, and in it Mom is sometimes watching something other than Another World. One time it is John F. Kennedy’s assassination or funeral, I’m not sure which, although I do know I would have been too young to remember either. Yet, the details of that memory are especially acute: the orange cotton jumper Mom is folding, the one she sewed herself for Janet. The white hard plastic of the laundry basket. The cold tiles on the floor where my hand rests. What it is about that spot? Did we sit there often?

I am always young in my memory of that place, as is Mom. We are both earnest, both willing to be the best we can be at our respective roles. Mom is still willing to take her laundry basket with her to wherever she goes to sit; she still folds the clothes into piles while smoking her cigarettes and watching her soap. She is still kind to me, making me lunch, trying to show me the ways of moms.

Later on, in a newer house, she will keep all the clothes in a basket underneath the ironing board perpetually set up, but rarely used, in the master bedroom. The basket will get so full of clean clothes that a second one will be employed. All my clothes and those of my sister and brother will be stuffed into those two baskets, shirts on top of socks, pants on top of shirts, occasionally a set of clean sheets or a bedspread thrown on top of the entire heap. By the time any of us pulls out an item to wear, it will be so wrinkled from the weight of every other item that no amount of ironing, not even with steam nor the spray of a water bottle, will take out the indentations that soon become the hallmark of our fashion.

By then I will be sassy and sarcastic towards Mom. I will snarl at her, call her names, become an unruly teenager. I will throw a bottle of nail polish at her when she makes a snide comment about my boyfriend. But in that one long-ago memory, the one where Mom and I sit on the floor together, I watch her with big eyes. I notice how well she maneuvers her many devices — the television, the clothes, her cigarettes, the ashtray. I love everything about her, especially her smell, which I now realize is exactly the scent of clean laundry.

I wonder what it is about folding clothes that repeats itself, like a little ballerina doing pirouettes in my mind. Why not washing dishes or dusting, or scrubbing floors on her hands and knees? Mom wasn’t the kind of housewife who wore an apron. She didn’t whistle while she worked, nor did she sing. Mom didn’t buy into brand names — Tide and Palmolive (“you’re soaking in it!”). She called all powder disinfectant cleaners “Ajax,” even when she bought Comet. (Comet…it makes you vomit…so buy Comet, and vomit, too-dayyy…)

When I think of Mom and cleaning, I think of conflict. I think of anger and resentment. She hated to clean. She was so impatient she wouldn’t even allow us to clean. “I’ll make your beds, just get out of my hair,” she told us. Mom was a nervous wreck (her words) when I was growing up. She had too many kids, and eventually things started to happen. Teen pregnancy, drugs, smoking, drinking.

She wasn’t a controlling woman; she only cared that things were “clean enough.” But cleaning was just one more chore she never really wanted to sign up for. Mom was happiest when she was sitting over coffee with Tomasita from across the street or playing poker with her friends or watching her soap opera.

Maybe that’s why this particular memory of folding clothes while watching TV comes to me again and again. And this, always this: She asks me to go get her a glass of water. I jump up and run to the kitchen. There on the counter is an open package of windmill cookies with almond slivers. I take a piece of a broken cookie, put it my mouth and let it melt while I fill up her glass. It is quiet in the house for once, just the sound of breathy voices coming from the television, and that stark sensation that daytime TV produces. While the the rest of the world is out doing what they do and Mom is here with me, doing what it is we do.

-Based on a ten-minute practice from Topic Post, Cleanliness.

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You Can't Go Back, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

You Can’t Go Back, one of the homes I lived in as a child, now abandoned, June 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I spent two weeks on the road in June, researching my book. The second week was a road trip with my mother to Georgia, where I spent much of my childhood. Mom has been working on the family tree for at least five years. We printed out the whole tree (which ended up being about 4 feet wide and 5 feet long), taped it together, rolled it up, and carried it with us to the South.

To spur memories and aid my research, I asked her and my step-dad to drive me around to all the places we lived when I was growing up. I asked questions, took photographs, and taped their memories of love, land, and place. Not only was it a rich time with them, it was healing.

The demographics of the places we lived back then have changed. Many homes where I lived as a newborn, infant, or young girl, now reside in less desirable parts of town. The photograph is one of the homes where I lived with my mother. She said she used to rock me on the little side porch that is now overgrown with weeds.

I knew when I saw the Abandoned topic, I wanted to write about what it was like driving around, experiencing the past (some of which I was too young to consciously remember) through present eyes. I drummed up the memory of seeing this abandoned place, which was once our home, and wrote these haiku like a writing practice. They haven’t been edited.

I learned a lot on that trip. You can go back – but it’s not the same. And the death of one thing is the glorious birth of something else.




You Can’t Go Back – 15 haiku


rocking on the porch
imagining your soft lap
cradling my head


you can’t go back home
but you can peek through the past
as if it was yours


I raised the glass lens
sweat trickled down my armpit
let sleeping dogs lie


home was forsaken
covered with vines and green leaves
I opened the door


earth reclaims the past
memory doesn’t hold me
I am holding it


neighborhoods crumble
our memories are alive
long after we die


unraveling the past
identity cracks open
desolate and white


confederate flag
in the yard across the way
stops, pauses mid-air


the past is the past
never to be abandoned
as long as we live


grandmothers recite,
“go tell your stories, honey”
a dog barks nearby


running through puddles
along the wide Savannah
I dive but no splash


sultry and humid
I remember my last name
forgetting the first


time is elusive
batting flies against the rain
through leaky floor boards


pounding the pavement
emaciated memories
sparkling in the sun


the jewels of the past
backseat drivers one and all
remember, you are


-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – “ABANDONED”

-posted on red Ravine Friday, August 17th, 2007

-related to posts:  Excavating Memories,  Cassie’s Porch – Then & Now, (Geo) Labyrinth Finder, Duck & Cover

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The summer of 2004 I was on a sabbatical from my work. That summer I wrote every day. I also created with three fellow writers a workshop-style group. At the beginning of each week, we emailed to one another new sections from our manuscripts. At the end of the week, we met in person to give feedback on the work each writer had sent. It was a good group. We laid ground rules about what was and wasn’t allowed during critique. All the writers were strong, and we all made good headway on our projects. I managed to complete two short stories that summer.

One of the writers in the group was a young woman named Amanda. She must have been about 22 or 23, only a year out of college. She was an assistant at an elementary school and had the summer off, so in addition to our writing workshop, Amanda and I also met weekly to do writing practice. We often did long sessions; sometimes we’d do two one-hour practices back to back. She wrote fast and pressed down so hard with her pen that she often had to shake out her hand.

Amanda’s parents were only about five years older than me, and I think Amanda saw me as a sort of mother figure. She moved to Albuquerque for the job, and I could tell by how much she talked about her parents that she was terribly homesick. Her writing was brilliant. It was fresh and alive. She often wrote in the voice of a young girl, but the things she wrote about were mature. Loneliness. Being lost. Loving the wrong person.

It was Amanda who one day threw out the topic “sleepaway camp.” “What is ‘sleepaway camp’,” I asked. She explained: a summer camp where you go overnight for a week or so with other kids. I agreed to write on the topic but only for ten minutes. I didn’t think it would hold my interest for any longer than that.

I remembered that particular practice when I did a post on my daughters’ recent return from summer camp. I found it in one of my old notebooks and decided to reproduce it here. What struck me was this: I started that practice with no memory of ever having gone to a camp. Yet, by the end of the practice, it came back — I had once attended a Girl Scout camp. It had been lost, temporarily buried underneath a bunch of other stuff. Once I started to unpack the other stuff, the memory came into view.

Amanda moved away at the end of that summer. I called the school where she worked but they didn’t have a forwarding address. My emails to her bounced. I’ve thought of her often. I figure some day she’ll turn up again, probably on the spine of a best-selling work of fiction. I didn’t know her for very long, but she gave me the gift of discovering that my memories will return if I keep doing writing practice. 


PRACTICE: Sleepaway Camp

I never went to sleepaway camp when I was a kid. One time, in fifth grade, my mom put me to bed at 7 pm, washed and dried like a poodle, so my dad could wake me up at 4 am and get me to the Alvarado Elementary parking lot by 5 am. We were heading in buses to Carlsbad Caverns.

We wore jackets because it was still cool in the mornings, even though it was almost summer break. Steve McIlheney’s family owned McIlheney’s Dairy, so they supplied the milk, whole and unpasturized. It tasted thick and raw to me, like eggs were mixed in. I didn’t touch mine.

I don’t know if sleepaway camp existed when I was young or if my family was just an anomaly, one of those sleepaway-camp-unaware types of family. I think both. I think some kids went away to camp, but I would wager most of those places were big and not cozy, with chores like shoveling and digging posts. I imagine the rooms to be dirty with rat droppings under the old bunks, which had army mattresses and thick blankets that smelled like dust. I imagine the only kids who were shipped off to these sleepaway camps were on LSD by the age of 12 or sleeping with their mom’s boyfriends.

But I also would wager that there were nice sleepaway camps, camps with tennis courts and horseback riding and swimming in heated pools, camps for kids whose parents thought about such things as developing independence and having their kids have a richer experience than, say, sitting in front of the TV all day and watching Hogan’s Heroes and Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island and eating entire bags of potato chips, the Safeway brand kind.

And suddenly it dawns on me that I was scared on that bus, driving five hours, three in darkness, my stomach empty but for a too-sweet donut. Coconut, burnt coconut, the kind my mom bought when she bought donuts. And how I would have preferred white powdered sugar or chocolate dipped, but how they gave us burnt coconut instead, plus the milk, and how I wanted to sit up near the front of the bus behind the driver, near the teachers but how they only let the feeble kids sit up there, the ones prone to carsickness and how I sat in the back instead.

And now, a distant memory, Girl Scout camp, my God, I did do sleepover camp, I just forgot.

-Ten-minute practice from August 2004

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What I loved about sharpening dental tools was the pay. What I hated about sharpening dental tools was the pay. The jobs that paid well in a sleepy Western town weren’t necessarily jobs that you could sink a growing brain into. I loved the precision of it. There were certain tools that I was good at sharpening – I can’t even remember their names now.

There was one tool with a scoop neck that was just too hard. I couldn’t get the curve to the grinding wheel at the right angle. I’d grind a little, neck down, eyes penetrating and alert, stop, pull up to the micrometer. Measure. Too little off. Too much off. I blame it on my lack of spatial awareness.

What I loved about picking cherries was the view. What I hated about picking cherries was the pay. Just didn’t pay all the much for the blood, sweat, and tears. We wore these belted buckets around our waists and chatted it up while we stood atop tall ladders between gnarled branches and plucked cherry after cherry after cherry.

Most of my friends smoked back then. We probably spent more time on smoke breaks than we did picking cherries. Not to worry, the owner of the topside grove stood puffing away with us. The view was stunning. Flathead Lake. The drive from Missoula to Flathead through the reservation was peaceful and still. I loved the country there. I ached for the mountains after I moved to the Midwest. Ached.

I settle for the Great Lakes now. And prairie grass. And colder, windier winters. What I loved about pumping diesel for semi’s was the people. The truckers were friendly and well-versed in the gift of gab. The waitresses were hot. The food was cold and greasy. Truck driving food. The lights were bright. And I used to like the smell of gas. Plus at that time I was proud to be able to do physically demanding jobs. They kept me fit and trim and made me feel solid. Grounded.

That’s what I can say about jobs like cherrypicking and pumping diesel and checking oil on big Peterbilt or Mack trucks. Grounded. Step up, pull up the latches on the right side of the hood, or was it the left?

The office I worked in was about 12 x 12 and smelled like Granddaddy’s shop used to smell. A mixture of male sweat, girlie calendars, oil, gas, grit, and grime. That’s exactly what it smelled like. I used to like that smell. And the times we would visit him on Reynolds Street.

About 7 or 8 years ago, I headed Down South with my mother and sister. We went to the old haunts. My granddaddy’s shop was closed up tight. And it looked almost exactly the same as it did in the late 50’s, early 60’s. The Bear alignment sign was still hanging out from a rusty pole. And the auto service sign, we nabbed that one for my brother.

When we got back to the North, I gave the sign to him. And asked him to hold on to mine for me. I don’t know what happened to them. I need to ask. For a long time they were hanging in his barn. They tore the shop building down a few weeks after we left the South and widened the highway. All that remain are my photographs. I think that’s why I love photography.

I have an affinity for signs. I don’t know why. I shoot them all the time with my camera. Maybe it goes back to those hot humid days we’d visit my granddaddy at his shop. And drop salted Planter’s into the frosty, dripping tops of Coke bottles. We’d pull them out from between those machine pinchers hooked to a red metal cooler that went clink and suck down the caramel acid sugar between bits of swollen saltless peanuts.

Maybe that’s why I liked the smell of gas. And working at gas stations. Maybe it’s in my blood.



Thursday, May 24th, 2007

-from Topic post, Job! What Job?

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memoir

1567, from Anglo-Fr. memorie “note, memorandum, something written to be kept in mind” (1427), from L. memoria (see memory). Meaning “person’s written account of his life” is from 1673. The pl. form memoirs “personal record of events,” first recorded 1659. 
                                             – from the Online Etymology Dictionary

 ______________________


I’ve been thinking about memoir, the word, the difficulty people have pronouncing it. If you write creative nonfiction, chances are you read memoir. I am reading Bone Black, the bell hooks memoir about growing up in the South. Reading other writers jogs the memory.

My thoughts are pulled to the South because my step-mother in South Carolina passed away a few days ago. I wasn’t close to her, and had not seen her in a few years. Yet when I heard the news, I was flooded with memories of the time I spent with her.

That is the power of memoir.

I have a great sadness at her passing, though our relationship wasn’t as much about the present, as it was the past. Memoir is about the past. It revives and documents the history of living. History is full of contradiction.

Some of the sadness I feel is for my step-dad, who I was very close to as a child. In honoring his loss, I am sad, too. But the grief for me is deeper.

The most vivid memories of my step-mother are from the mid-sixties, my preteen years, a tumultuous time when my younger sister, two brothers, and I were uprooted and moved to the North. It was a difficult transition, and painful to be distanced from my family in the South – the only family I had ever known.

Looking back, it turned out for the best. I was exposed to a whole new culture in the North, different ways of thinking, talking, and living. I met my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Juarez, who made me read Dickens, believed in me, and inspired me to write. My experiences grew richer. All of them have led me here.

It has been 4 years since I’ve seen my step-mother; it was the year I quit my job and started writing. My last memories of her are leaning back in her rocker recliner, laughing and joking with us kids. We were all grown, well into middle age, attending a short reunion a few miles south of the border river that flows between Georgia and South Carolina – the Savannah.

Grandkids and great-grandkids were running, dancing, and jumping across the dark brick family room between rounds of lazy adult chatter and a noisy TV. I used to watch The Trooper Terry Show in that room, on a black and white with rabbit ears. It was the same 202 address, with the same aluminum mailbox, that received my letters to my step-dad in back slanted 6th grade handwriting.

The letters would soon drop off in 7th grade, a direct correlation to the rising teenage anger that welled up inside me. I attended New Cumberland Junior High in Pennsylvania and was teased mercilessly for my Southern accent. It wasn’t easy to change the way I talked. They might as well have asked me to cut off my right index finger. Yet, eventually, I did lose the accent. And ties to my Southern roots became confusing and disjointed.

It would take me a number of years to integrate and appreciate my past. That’s what memoir’s for. And in a few months, I’ll be travelling with my Mother to the South to begin researching my book.

Old endings. New beginnings.

I have done a lot of work since the sixties. A lot of letting go. On one of the last visits with my step-mother and step-dad, they told me how different I was from that dark, brooding teenager that sat in the corner rocker and never spoke. Those were their last memories of me.

When you don’t see distant relatives much, you tend to freeze them in place, lock them into distance and time. They are who they were the last time you visited them. But it works both ways. I am frozen, too – a still-frame snapshot in their memories.

Letting go is a great gift. It allows me to make room for all the good stuff. My memories may only be trinkets, shards of 40 year old bone, unearthed from iron-rich banks of Georgia clay that used to muddy my corduroys as a kid.

But my memories are mine. I choose to remember my step-mother for all the good things she gave the world, for what I loved about her:


  • Southern manners, the way she turned a phrase, the lawdy mercies! and come here, shugah’s, and my pet name for Liz, Shug
  • her warm smile, the way she laughed, a loud cackle that could fill a room
  • Southern cooking, buttery mashed potatoes with thick gravy, piping hot cornbread that melts in your mouth, spinach greens with just the right touch of vinegar and salt, fresh turkey and cornbread dressing, sweet iced tea, and a huge vat of homemade banana pudding. That girl could cook!
  • sipping 7up through a straw with me that time I was sick and laid up on the couch
  • she liked to go bare foot, paint her toenails bright red, and always wore flip-flops
  • she loved Granny and Pop the way I loved Granny and Pop
  • she loved the youngin’s, the babies, and hugged them every chance she got
  • she loved my step-dad, who I love, too


I live in the Midwest now. I walked the labyrinth on Monday and thought about how swiftly a little girl can shoot from 11 to 50, with barely a sneeze in between. My step-mother’s passing marks another fading link to my Southern childhood, roots whose stories die with the people who planted them.

I don’t remember the last time I openly grieved. We live in a youth-driven culture that does not emotionally or financially support taking quiet time to honor loss. But writing is a constant process of letting go.

It’s important to live well. Each time someone close to me passes on, it reminds me that this one life is precious. And the threat of death makes you want to live just a little bit harder.

In memory of my step-mother, Betty, who travelled into Spirit, Wednesday, March 28th, 2007, and is being laid to rest as I post this.

For all that has passed, and all that has been forgiven.


Friday, March 30th, 2007

-related to post, Labyrinth Walker

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