Tag Archives: memories

Mining memories

messy-deskWas listening to CBC this morning and there was some program on it (I forget which one) about memory, about the pathways of memory, about how if we rehash memories they create rivers in our neurons, meaning they’ll be easier to recall later.

So, between them, and writing exercises starting “I remember”, I’ve been digging a bit.

On the radio program they said “We always remember our first kiss”. I had to go mining deep for that one. I remember a lot of memorable kisses – the fly by one at college, the first one from an unreasonably handsome man who I never thought would notice me, wet kisses, dry kisses, passionate kisses, loving kisses, pecks on the cheek. But my first? I scrounged around a bit in my files.

Ah, yes, there it was, in the group of most embarrassing moments. My first boyfriend had tried to french kiss me. I reacted badly. Had never even thought of French kissing, had no idea about tongues and such. He politely backed off, always a considerate fellow, and we never French kissed again for our entire relationship.

Of course, next boyfriend was specifically recruited to teach me French kissing. I am grateful for them both.

That file, the most embarrassing moments, is annoyingly large. I remember asking a friend to come with me to the prom, RIGHT after I had the most hideous haircut of my life – he, unsurprisingly, said no. I remember bursting into tears at a management meeting just before I left work, snivelling and weeping like some half-baked depressive. I was sick sick then, my MS just kicking me about, but I didn’t know that. I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown, and probably looked like it, too.

I remember stupid things I said, foolish things I did. They’re all there, ready to be retrieved and placed on some invented person so I can feel them again (eek) or make them feel real for my characters.

I remember happy things, too – the joy of feeling my babies moving inside me, the first sight of them, the time I ran for politics and made a good speech.

Sad times, too – losses and absences and heartbreak.

Excitement. Thrills. Laughter.

It’s good we can retrieve these things, imagine what our characters must feel when they go through them. It’s a great place to go mining for inspiration.

But I can’t help wondering if revisiting these feelings changes me, too.


My parents passed away over 19 years ago.  It’s so hard to imagine a life with them, and yet, I can still hear their voices and still think of little things, like the delight my dad would have had in the small computer devices we have these days (he worked on some of the first ones) and the pleasure both of my parents would have had in my children, all three of whom are interesting, wondrous individuals who I wish could have met my folks. My dad was gone before the first was born, and my mom a year after the last was born.  They have few memories of them, and I’m sure my daughter’s memories of my mother are tinged by seeing her in the last stages of cancer.

I’ve been lucky, though, in that my ex’s parents were there to get to know the kids, to provide that grandparental experience that I didn’t really have, either, to be delighted with them even when they were horrid. Well, most of the time when they were horrid….

I remember having them babysit while we were in a hotel and my son screaming, and them putting him out in the hallway, no doubt wishing for an abduction…I remember being told that I was the reason for their toddler sicknesses because of my sloppy house. I remember, unfortunately, some of the hurtful things in amongst the good.  It’s too bad, because, since my parents were gone, all I tell the kids about are the good things. I figure that since they will never know them, it probably isn’t necessary to dwell on their little issues. But they’ve seen their other grandparents, and love them and get cross with them as you do in any relationship.

My ex-mum-in-law is being remembered tomorrow, some three months after her death.  She’s not having a funeral as she donated her body to science in a final act of generosity. I’m digging through memories, trying to think of something to say at the event, some snippet that captures my love and complex feelings about this second mother of mine. I was always much closer to her than I was to my father-in-law, not that I don’t love him also, but she and I would talk about sewing and cooking and parenting and writing and painting and the parts of the world that we were both involved in.  She was much better at everything than I was, but I never felt belittled or looked down upon. We’d laugh together at our respective less-than-successes and cheer each other’s wins. She was fabulous.

I remember:

– renting a cottage for the first time in our lives.  She came up to visit and, at 80+, lay on the dock and caught fish with her bare hands.

–  Dragging herself, with a broken leg, down the block to her house. Strong strong woman. I would have given up and frozen to death.

– Coming to my house for every birth and being so helpful I felt positively inadequate.  I’d sip a cup of tea, and the cup would be washed and put away before I had time to swallow.

– Driving with her in the snow swept Prairie and hearing her panic as the road disappeared in the drifting snow – and yet she trusted me to drive.

– Conversations in the evening after the kids were off to bed and while ex was away, and the secret we shared.

– When my daughter was born, she knitted up a storm, all in a peach coloured yarn. She’d make these exquisite sweaters and mail them to me, with a tiny torn piece of paper on which she’d written “I don’t know how these will wash – they are made of 100% unknown fibres”.  They washed like magic.  I passed them on to other mothers and I imagine they are still circulating now, well constructed and indestructible.

– Potato cake and Pavlova, two things that will always remind me of her. Potato cake – solid and nutmeggy and hearty and sometimes with raisins except for when she learned the kids didn’t like raisins. Delicious and almost as indestructible as the sweaters, except they were so tasty we had to eat them. Pavlova – light and fluffy or flat and sugary, depending on the weather, covered with kiwis (a fruit she introduced me to, and one which remains a favorite) and strawberries. I remember her talking about how huge Pavlovas made with duck eggs were until her daughter told her, “Well, mum, the eggs were bigger!”

– The expression on her face when I inadvertently mentioned the truth of  the Burma-lean bread.  Honestly, dear ex – I thought she knew….but it was a secret kept for 40 years and she was shocked. Suddenly her perfect son was somehow imperfect and it threw her for a loop. It was hilarious.

Even now I feel tears and smiles at the thought of her.

Cheers, dear one.  I hope they are keeping you busy in heaven. I know how you like to feel useful. If you only knew how much you were.

Merrily wandering along memory lane

A few weeks ago I received a sinister invitation in my email box from my alma mater.  Apparently in a moment of utter foolishness, I’d volunteered to be the contact person for our next reunion, our 30th. According to the astonishingly youthful alumni advisor, this date is coming up.  I could cheerfully crumble into a pile of aged limestone (I went to Queen’s, dontcha know) at the thought of the 30 years difference from the person I still see in my mind’s eye BEFORE I look in the mirror and the one I see afterwards, but I got to thinking.  About Queen’s.  About my time there. About the people I knew there.

I was a transfer student from University of Washington, and as such got to skip the usual frosh frivolities and enter the much more serious-minded drinking of the transfer student group. I met a clump of people from CEGEPs in Quebec, and made some lifelong friends from there – at least I think I did as some of them stayed around even when sober. I met my first Queen’s boyfriend in that group and we had a perfectly lovely time, even when he tried to hit me in the face with a pie for my birthday (I grew up in Boston, so he went for an appropriate Boston Cream Pie, little realizing it was really a cake.  It bounced off me quite harmlessly, but the thought was there). We dated for almost a year, and then dated again later. Sweet man.

I met my  first roommate that year, too – a stunning blonde who eventually went on to study law.  Not before we had fisticuffs outside the Prince George Hotel, though.  We’d been drinking with some RMC Cadets and she wanted to go home and I had something urgent to attend to before we walked the long way in the cold, if you get my drift, and she refused to wait for me and we actually had a bouncing off the sidewalk fistfight to decide.  It was over shortly because both of us were weaving a teensy bit and kept missing each other. We must’ve looked hilarious. She’s still a fighter, but has taken it into jurisprudence (and the occasional Starbucks).

My nursing classmates – well, they were warm and funny and smart and occasionally odd and I’ve reconnected with a few of them via Facebook and other means. One of them has remained by best kindred spirit friend through all these years. They were always much more organized and motivated than I was, dressed better, came to school prepared. I’m curious about them.  So much has changed in my life since I last saw them – I wonder what’s been happening in theirs?

I remember endless nursing clinicals, the dreaded lab sessions where we had to give bed baths to each other – and one lengthy series of classes where we were supposed to be learning about research but spent it instead on a prof’s study about how long it took oral temperatures to return to normal after a glass of ice water. Totally exciting. Not. I remember our wild anatomy professor who stood on his lab table to illustrate the uterus and fallopian tubes. I remember making my labmate shriek when I pulled the shoulder tendons on a cadaver’s arm we were studying and made the fingers move. Lost a boyfriend over that. He didn’t have the same sense of humour as the first one, who would have probably just turned green and then done a Muppet joke. Wacka wacka wacka.

I remember dances, long days spent in the health library, long nights spent in the pub. I remember drinking awful coffee out of those vending machines that never failed to leave a pile of grounds in every cup. I remember walks by the lake, studying in my apartment, the peaceful sound of snow days in Kingston, the glorious Mays. It was good, even the Kraft Dinner and the month I lived in a basement with nothing but bread and strawberry jam to eat. My roommate and I couldn’t afford the laundromat so we’d hand wash our uniforms and nylons and then run in circles around the apartment to dry them.

I wasn’t a keen student, most of the time.  I wanted to learn what I needed to know, but my curiosity wasn’t piqued by most of my courses. It wasn’t until I got to third year that things began to fall into place and suddenly I was mature enough to understand what a treasure this time really was. When would I again have the luxury of studying only, of stretching my mind while not having anyone depending on me to do anything else but?

Well, for better or worse, the knowledge bug bit me and I’ve been unable to stop learning, taking courses, studying. It’s all been wonderful and I’m even signed up for a course this September again and can’t wait.

But oh how I miss my classmates and the times we shared.  So perhaps organizing this reunion is just the thing. I’m looking forward to wandering down the lane with them. But maybe I’ll skip the Kraft Dinner.

The pearl

I have a sweet pearl necklace that my dad gave me way back when I was a young teenager.  It’s a single, perfectly round pearl, with a gold holder and a thin 14 carat gold chain. Every time I wear it I am afraid I’ll lose it, but it holds on. The chain tangles, but it always untangles.

My dad gave me a few pearls – I have a ring he gave me also.  I don’t know why pearls – my birth stone was the yucky pee coloured Topaz. Perhaps he mixed me up with my sister, or perhaps he just knew me better than that.

The pearl is a live thing. Like amber, it comes from a slow, natural process.  And it has to be worn to keep its luster.  Other gems stay, cooly glinting, not caring whether you wear them – in fact probably preferring to be left alone to shine on their own. A pearl, though – it rubs against your skin, and it becomes warmer, more alive.  It takes on your body oils, becomes part of you as you become part of it.  Perhaps my dad knew that sort of ornament would be more me than any other.

My dad and I did pottery together, taking earth and forming it with our hands. We drew together, taking charcoal from the ash and sketching.  We gardened together, and he taught me how to grow foods in a small plot of land, taught me the immense pleasure of eating vegetables right off the plant. He taught me to see the world, taking all of us to canyons and mountains and caves and seashores, sharing their marvels with us, always finding something to wonder about, learn about. He made kites out of scraps of paper, built sand castles, carved boats and Kachina dolls and walking sticks, taking what was there and adding his touch. He taught me to see, to smell, to feel. To relish the world and all that was in it.

I still wander around, touching stone and sensing its roughness, feeling objects in stores, disobeying the look but don’t touch warnings we all heard from parents. The sensory world is my favorite, and one of my favorite things to sense is the slight insignificant weight of my father’s pearl around my neck as it warms to meet my body temperature.

My dad’s been gone 24 years now and it is so hard when I realize he’s been gone almost half of my life. He is still such a large part of me.  As with my pearl, we were able to rub against one another enough through the experiences he shared with me that some of him has seeped into my skin.  Tomorrow, for Father’s Day, I’ll put on the pearl, and remember him from when he gave it to me – crazy funny, laughing, finger outstretched to attract birds, always interested, often challenging, endlessly interesting, warm and wonderful.