I’m convinced this happened. In part because I know it did, coupled with inexplicable occasions of imagery and sensation. Clouded by perception,  recollections flourish as forces independent of memory .

I didn’t know my mother was a writer; she was a school teacher – went to work every morning,  marked papers at night. We lived on a farm; Mom and Dad, five children – practically a litter of puppies. My sister ten months older, brother eleven months younger, five of us separated by five years.

I remember the oddest things, more often than not smell triggers a snapshot. Bees wax evokes blinding memory of the washing machine tub Dad rigged to extract honey from his bee hive frames. Turning the handle, brass spigot honey drips fill a pail. Magic of sagebrush after summer rain  takes my breath away. One whiff and I’m six again, picking sunflowers on a hillside.Red feathers bolt to the table my father patiently crafts lures for fly fishing.

I remember the doorbell , but can’t picture the man behind it. I smell acrid flashbulbs of the reporter, my mother surrounded by smiling bewildered children against the backdrop of a bookshelf. Even when that bookshelf contained a new set of Encyclopedia Britannica,  my mother’s name embossed on pages of the volume  “Stories From Around the World” – it didn’t occur to me she was anything but a school teacher. I wasn’t old enough to understand she published her first story at seventeen, coincidentally in Seventeen magazine.  Had I known the runner up for the story contest was Sylvia Plath, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I didn’t know she was a writer.

Memories dissolve with age,  becoming pages in a book. Reading it over and over until each word is  known by heart. Time omits pages that make us uncomfortable,  re-writes passages as maturity burdens us with insight. Without warning sensory triggers  cast a spell so powerful, we stand defenseless as years melt away.

I’ve given up trying to remember specific events, living for moments when triggers take me to another time and place. Uninvited recollections live as whispers in the breeze. Gazing at night skies a gust of wind might blow to resting on damp grass, my mother keeping us up past bedtime to wish upon falling stars.  When least expected the smell of bacon in a cast iron pan takes me to an old canvas tent in the woods. Straining to picture Mom proves elusive but I know she’s there, teaching us important things as my father stays home on the orchard. Memories of her depression and bouts of madness live in pages of a dusty old book. I only read them if I want to.Knowing she was a writer wouldn’t change a thing, recollections of the crazy farmhouse I grew up in don’t care for analysis, they march to a different drummer.

31 thoughts on “Recollections

  1. And now you are a writer too – this is much is clear! Yesterday a friend recounted how as a young man he had been discussing some important subject with another friend and between them they came up with good new ideas. His friend’s father, a historian, then said: “Now boys, you have to write it down. Otherwise it doesn’t exist.” Isn’t this our greatest gift, to write things down and make them exist? Thanks for this post – I loved reading it.

  2. 5 kids in 5 years? Yikes. The only child in my can’t even fathom having so many people around all the time. Truly amazing!
    My own recollections are even larger families aren’t as pleasant.

    From my early teens I remember a family down-the-block from us with 8 kids — one of whom I went to school with. But they were incredibly poor (we didn’t have much more than them) and the mother was an incredibly poor housekeeper — which I say because even as you young teen I retain this smell memory of a house poorly cleaned with comingled food/diapers/trash….. Which comment I make because not long ago I visited someone I’d never met and walking into that house brought the same smell-memory back with same-day intensity.

    It is funny the way different people remember different things. My food smell memories are intense — so much so that I recall where I’ve been (cities, countries, locations) by what I’ve eaten there.

    My dear wife has “joked” about losing her memory because of Alzheimers disease — I get angry about that because I don’t think it’s a funny disease. ‘Tis hard to imagine life without memory…… sigh.

    A retired photographer looks at life
    Life Unscripted on WordPress

      • So true.

        When I was younger I thought of memory only in terms of current function — almost never or retrospective vision. Yet both are equally important — at different times of life.

  3. This is a beautiful article And your family sounds wonderful! I am very familiar with farm life. 🙂
    Thank you, my friend, I am so happy to have found you.

  4. First day in Kindergarten. Much that remains are the smells. They are so unique to the room. I still cannot completely explain what the smells were! You’re right though, the memories become crystallized over time, images, old friends we return to that rarely change unlike so much else in life. Thanks for writing about this.

  5. I can relate to this as my mother fought depression for almost all of her life. There was nothing I could do to help her.

    As for the smell things…


    Great post Notes.

  6. Pingback: 1st Teacher’s Pet Awards – Notes to Ponder | Our Ancestors

  7. Glad you liked my award…
    I was a little scared because you did not react as you usually do.

    No one added a comment to let you in on the surprise though.

  8. I decided to stay up and read this… wonderful. Yes, the notion of the triggering even for me came from the poet Richard Hugo who wrote mainly in the Northwest, having his home in Missoula teaching at the University of Montana toward the end of his life. He wrote a book The Triggering Town which is still worth the read. This sense of place and memory and how certain things will trigger and bring these back, almost in the sense of Proust as well… 🙂

  9. I came across with this:
    “Please don’t expect me to always be good and kind and loving. There are times when I will be cold and thoughtless and hard to understand.”
    — Sylvia Plath (via notesofasongbird)

  10. Pingback: Expectations | The Seeker

  11. What an incredible and rich post. I really do not know where to begin ~ the vivid descriptions remind me of home (sagebrush after a summer rain…nothing better and to be able to turn a spigot and have honey from a hive come out, wow). But what you really capture is the simple love of family and those who are around…and how our being around them in a family sense-of-the-word makes us see them so close that other definitions of them does not really matter: “Had I known the runner up for the story contest was Sylvia Plath, it wouldn’t have made any difference. I didn’t know she was a writer…” You just knew her as Mom. Very cool. And love the last photo 🙂

  12. What a smashing read.
    A ”smelly” post indeed! Had me thinking of Liquorice Allsorts and immediately I am wandering around the town where my grandmother lived.

  13. She was your mum. That’s the iron strong core to this piece, again and again ti rises and it’s beautiful and true. And you know her as a woman apart from that space now because you can read her when you wish to, and a talented woman at that.

    Writing, letting the words out can be a purge, a kind of therapy that only some writer’s know about, and I think at times it can be a life saver quite literally at it’s most powerful, a sanity leveller at others.

    I like your comment on the Cloud, I haven’t overlooked it, I’m getting there, but I’m also going to use it as part of my next post because I know just what you mean.

    – esme upon the Cloud

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