By: H. Anne Thurston, Columnist
Memories are commonly associated with age and lifetimes. Yet their creation is often during ones very earliest years as well as on through childhood, the teens, twenties, thirties and the following decades.[private]
Most of us, no matter our present age can let our minds wander backwards and remember the sad, impossible, funny, exciting and completely unexpected happenings during each decade we have lived. Often the memory embraces a person, a place, a surprise, a thing or event but it is there within our being securely locked in place to return under various stimuli to haunt us with its emotions.
When writing I often refer to my mind as a place of endless rooms, one leading into another, yet of some of its contents is hidden behind a closed door which opens into an unused attic or closet. It is patterned after one I discovered some thirty years ago when visiting the town of my birth, Columbus, Ohio. On its southern perimeter is an area known as Old Town. Within its boundaries stands the home in which both my mother and I were born. The story of that day tells me our births were in the very same bed with its laboriously ironed sheets and hand sewn quilt.
Old Town was settled by Columbus’s early German emigrants and saved from demolition by residents who literally threw themselves on the ground in front of the heavy equipment which arrived on the scene to begin the destruction. Because of this determination to save the homes and breweries the small house I discovered during my visit remained standing. When I first discovered the structure it had been joined to the home which stood on the street behind it. The space between them, probably thirty feet, had been filled with adjoining rooms and the resultant building had become Old Town’s book store. No longer two separate dwellings its rooms were not recognizable as kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, bedrooms, baths or even closets.
Instead each was an area for a specific topic of writing. I remember opening what had been a walk-in closet off an upstairs room only to discover the ‘wings’ collection of books. It was fascinating with editions about birds, butterflies and airplanes.
And so it is with the memory of Old Town’s library I refer to my mind. Slowly over the years I have added rooms and closets to house my memories. One I call my ‘library’ where books I have read are shelved. Another is my art gallery and yet another, my ‘people place’. This is filled with ‘portraits’ of people I have known and not known, living or deceased, they line the walls with their smiles, frowns and all-telling eyes. And of course, there is my junk room overflowing with those bits of memory that simply fit nowhere special but can’t be forgotten.
What is junk for one person is a treasure to another. This fact was reinforced during my last move as a friend and my daughter earnestly told me I should get rid of a lot of my ‘junk’. As they look on them no great memory of a place, person or happening comes to mind as it does for me. One such piece is the old, dented spittoon of my father’s which is so rich in memories for me. Another is an old cigar box full of thimbles used by my grandmother, now long dead. She was less than five feet in height and slight. None of the thimbles will fit any finger on my hands. Used to help push a threaded needle through the fabrics which she so diligently used when hand sewing quilts and clothing they can be of no useful value to me today as I work on my quilts. Yet opening the box and looking at each silver thimble the unique design covering its surface brings memories of her vitality, laughter and grandmother’s love. They wash through me like a relaxing vacation time to a far away land.
The same is true of the way too many vases tucked in my linen closet. Each shares with me memories of my mother and the years she pursued her passion of gardening and flower arranging. Before the time of ‘career’ women my father strongly refused to permit Mother to open the flower shop she dreamed of so instead she began a volunteer ‘career’ which he considered acceptable. My father firmly believed others would look upon him as a husband who could not financially care for his family if a shop had been established. Mother attended classes and eventually became a nationally certified flower show judge. As a child I traveled with her many times to large flower shows held in big city halls. They were all her creations.
The same is true of my drawer full of my father’s old T-squares, triangles, compasses and pencils. Others would see them as worthless in today’s world of digital architectural design, yet for me they bring my father to my side and with him his love.
There are times I despair over the failure of my mind to remember. I can stand before someone I have known for years and realize I have no idea whether the name is Tom, Dick or Harry. This is a challenge which haunts me as I try to search out the name by delving into where, when or how I know the person standing there conversing with me. All the time I pray I will be successful in disguising the fact I haven’t the faintest idea what name to use as the conversation travels back and forth between us.
I remember times when Ed and I would be shopping in Glens and someone we know would stop before us and ask about the grandchildren. As we answered I was at ease, for although I might not have had any idea who they were, it was obvious Ed did and could tell me after they left. More than once, to my absolute disbelief he would turn to me and ask, “Who in the world was that we were talking to, Anne?” It is times like that one can worry about dementia.
Fortunately I read some years back if you can’t find your car keys it is not a sign of serious memory loss. However if you hold your car keys in your hand and ask yourself what they are you are in trouble. So far, even though I seem prone to put things down and forget where I have left them I still recognize the items I misplace.
Memories are often mysterious in their contents. Take a particular event that occurs within a family, a group of friends or at a special occasion and the memories created in the minds of those in attendance can vary drastically. Arguments can develop between those who experienced a particular time together, when at a later date, they speak of it.
I discovered this as my family read my first published book, a memoir, The Book of Anne. Often what I remembered was challenged by a relative as being way off – not at all what they recalled. I came to understand that rather having one of us right and the other wrong that each of us observed the event with different eyes and thoughts. For one it might have been the weather that colored the situation while the other remembers it was all about the action of someone. Both of us were right, but our understanding of the situation might be miles apart.
It is much like a pretty gal at the beach down by the marina. Male eyes file away the hair color and figure. While we women will take careful note of the red, white and blue polka dot bikini she is wearing. And the matching beach towel on which she sits. At one point in his bout with Graves disease my husband endured double vision. I will never forget his remark while at the beach one day, “Anne, you have no idea how lucky I am. I see two of everything I look at!” I am not certain how that worked out for him when we watched fast-pitched ball in Petoskey; it must have made the games twice as exciting for him.
There is no doubt that the memory of an embarrassing or painful moment in our lives remain in that basement area of our memories we have labeled the subconscious. I am certain that one such moment when I was at the horribly vulnerable age of twelve my experience in music class in Harvard Grade School back in Maumee has colored my entire life with a terrible feeling of inferiority.
I could look back at the episode and rail in my mind about the unkindness and stupidity of the music teacher. I no longer remember her name but I could paint her portrait my image of her is so vivid even now, seventy five years later. Tall, dark haired, fortyish and wearing glasses she was doing her best to arrange all the seventh and eighth graders into a four part musical group. I do not remember any particular classmate although there were over fifty.
At 5’9” I was the tallest member of the group – except for a couple of the eighth grade boys. And I was a skinny 128 pounds. All this was making life difficult for me and my life-long shyness. Always in the back row for class pictures, I found myself once again in the rear. Even the name of the song has fled my memory; probably erased by what happened. As we sang the first verse the director listened.
Holding her hand high she signaled the group to stop. Pointing my way (to this day I will not point at anyone) she announced in a clear loud voice, ‘Anne move into the altos. You are not a soprano.”
The verse was sung again. Once more the director pointed my way as she instructed me to move into the tenor section brimming with boys. Her frown stopped the tittering that erupted and I moved down the bleachers on which we were arranged and climbed up among the boys. Even though the tittering could not be heard it showed on ever boy’s face. A twelve year old male reacts to the close proximity of a girl as if she was a poisonous snake about to strike out. I wanted to die.
Once again we sang the verse. At its end the director stood a moment thinking. Then, once more her finger rose to point to me and she said,” Anne, I have to ask you to return to the top bleacher again, but this time let’s try the bass section.” So I turned and worked my way through the rest of the boys to stand by the two eighth graders who were about my height. There I remained throughout the school year which included our spring concert and its audience of parents and friends. The experience taught me that no matter where I might choose to stand in my life it would not be where I was meant to be. There was no such spot.
The memory of that year of involvement in my school’s chorus has stood between me and my deep love of music ever since. I can’t even let myself hum when in public, yet I do with all my heart when alone. Over the years the memory of that time and the one which followed during my college year in which my sorority won the Greek Song Festival at Ohio State University in which I once again stood in the back row of our chorus. Even though I was formally attired and smiling I, under strict admonition, merely mouthed the words of the lovely song which won the honors.
From this and other memorable happenings in my life I have to conclude they can be powerfully educational or terribly destructive to each of us. Science tells us of the horrors that results from any kind of abuse or even careless behavior, as that of my music director’s pointing finger, can destroy us. Often this occurs without the victim’s awareness as they shove the memory of the happening way back into that basement room we call the subconscious.
Fortunately I now bring up the memory of my singing ‘career’ just to laugh and enjoy sharing it with others so they too can laugh, and perhaps in doing so recall a memory that has haunted them and find it worth laughing about today. Try it. It is fun. [/private]
Anne Thurston is a weekly columnist for The Boyne City Gazette. Thurston lives in Boyne City, and her published works include “E-Males” and “The Book of Anne.” More information on her work can be found at http://www.hathurston.com