RedRoom.com is a web site for writers and bloggers and they often issue challenges to bloggers to blog on a certain subject. Usually I have too many blog ideas lined up to participate but today's challenge, to write about your earliest memory, came at a good time. While writing Fry Bacon. Add Onions., I did a lot of delving into my store of memories and ever since the book was published I've gotten dozens of phone calls and emails from people telling me how much they love the memories in the book and how it has sparked memories of their own. (Photo above: Me with Mom and Dad in Gram Werner's backyard. I love this picture because you can see her old garage with her clothes poles in the rack. There was a big galvanized aluminum washtub hanging next to them and I spent many hours on hot summer days, playing in that tub in that yard.)
One of my sisters told me that her two children argue over whose turn it is to take her copy of Fry Bacon. Add Onions. to bed with them so they can read a story or two about their mother as a child, their aunts and uncles, their grandparents and great-grandparents. Memories are beautiful things and they lend cohesion and connection to the people who share the subjects of memories. My aunt, who is in her eighties and married for the second time after the death of my uncle, told me her new husband loves reading the stories in Fry Bacon. Add Onions. because he said it helps him connect with her life. I think that is beautiful. He especially loves the chapter on the ghost stories her mother used to tell, she said he reads that over and over.
So this is my earliest memory: I remember being at my Gram Werner's house in her backyard with Mom and Gram and looking up to see my Dad up on her roof fixing her chimney. My recollection of it is very clear, it was a cool, cloudy day and Dad was wearing the red and black checked Woolrich jacket he always wore. My mother told me I couldn't have been much more than a year old when that happened. I don't think I knew then want Dad was doing I just knew that my Daddy was way up high on Grammy's roof.
It's sort of a silly memory but when you are not much more than a year old you don't have much context with which to process such things. Throughout my childhood I spent an awful lot of time in the backyards of both of my grandmother's houses. Those yards were fairylands to me filled with flowers and fruit trees and bushes and wonderful places to hide. I have distinct early memories of peeking under plants in search of the tiny, fragrant lilies-of-the-valley that grew along the fences that lined both of their yards. Gram Werner's driveway always seemed like a magic place to me because it was made of brick and big trees hung over it so it was almost always shady and dark. There was an elevated strip of garden between the driveway and the house and there were wonderfully strange flowers there, my favorites being the Chines lanterns, plump, papery, bright orange little flowers dangling from graceful stems.
(Photo above: Grandma Valentine's house in winter. I have lots of memories of playing on that porch and in the back yard there, too.)Years later, when I was grown and moved away I sometimes went back to see those yards and was surprised by how small they seemed compared to my memories. Of course that is to be expected. I was much bigger then and knew more of the world. But in my memories I still think of those yards as they were over fifty-five years ago. I think of the pleasures of plucking sun-warmed currants from bushes and popping them in my mouth or the fat bunches of Concord grapes growing over the white lattice arbor and laying in the grass to eat them.
Memories, like all of life, come in infinite variety. It is important to cultivate and refine the beautiful memories and find ways to share them in blogs or stories or memoirs or conversation. Memories add depth and context and help us connect. I love it when I write about a memory and one of my cousins who lives halfway across the country now emails me and says, “I remember that pear tree. My sister and I used to play with our dolls there and pretend it was a tree house.”
Share those memories, they bear sweet fruit.
Thanks for reading.