Foto by tgw, New York City, 2003
They are like photographs. Mental photographs. The earliest to the latest. And there can be dream memories, too. Frightening memories. Pleasant memories. Necessary memories. Vexing memories. Sad memories. And, of course, happy memories.
What are memories? They are tools. Tools we need to survive. In particular the functional memories. Like remembering that if you put your hand in a fire you're going to experience extreme pain. Or like remembering your phone number. Or remembering how to add up a column of figures. A column of figures that may represent debt. Then the memory of how you got into debt can be either one of "in spite of going into debt, what a damn good time I had" or "Damn, why the hell did I let myself get into such debt?"
I've been remembering since I was 2 years old. That's what I claim. I can easily trace my memories back to Enid, Oklahoma. Memories of being a little boy. Memories of my little girl playmates. A sandbox out behind the garage. A driveway. A sidewalk leading from the front door of the tiny apartment in which I lived with my mother and father and brother. I remember riding my brother like a horse. I remember him encouraging me to pull his red hair, "Harder," he would say, "Harder!" I remember my one-eyed uncle giving me a knife shaped like a key one Christmas. And I remember almost slicing my thumb off with that knife, the scar still visible after all these years. Scars are identified by memories.
I remember the first snow I ever encountered. A deep snow. A snow that piled high up above my head. Three feet of snow one winter in Enid, Oklahoma.
I remember my first spring, also in Enid. There was this fantastic park (Spring Park) that was right down the street from where we lived in the tiny apartment in a house owned by a Mrs. Thorpe. I remember Mrs. Thorpe as a face in an upper window. That face remembered from a photograph. Photographs are replications of our memories. We take photographs to remember. I remember family gatherings where the photographic albums were hauled out and members of my family went over each photograph giving the story behind it. And stories are made up of memories. There is a story behind every memory. Even those memories we must retain to function.
I remember teachers. Remembering quirks in their method of teaching; quirks in their physical presence; quirks in the way they answered my juvenile questions. Like Mr. Robbins, my high-school math teacher I so quickly and easily remember. "When am I ever going to use algebra, Mr. Robbins?" "You'll use algebra when you go to the grocery store...." And that's the answer to that remembered question I remember him giving. I can't remember the rest of his answer. And there are X and Y factors in memories. Like, when was it we got Tinny the family dog? "Let's see," the rememberer says, "you were 5 when we got Tinny and that was 19__...or were you 6?" [Ironically, I am the only member of my family left who remembers Tinny.]
I'm amazed at how many memories I contain. It could be a phenomenal number. Millions.
My brother once told me he couldn't remember when he first started remembering. He thought it was around when he was 5. I easily remember when I was 5. And what I remember from being 5 are what Freud referred to as anal memories. I first remember the bathroom and my excrement, which fascinated me before I was taught to disgust it. These memories gradually elaborate into my remembering my identifying images in the linoleum that was on the floor of my parents' back bedroom in which I slept on a military cot my dad brought home from his job at the Army Air Force base located 10 miles outside my hometown in Tye, Texas.
I wrote a novel entitled Linoleum Boy based on memories of those images I concocted out of the patterns in that linoleum. Floral patterns. Thus my fascination over the years with gardens and forests and jungles and nature, fascinations out of which I further concocted that I was simply an animal. An animal using my mental energies (remember I'm Freudian) to enable me to extract my self, my Id, from the jungle, which was the theme of Linoleum Boy. Extracting...or extirpating...my Id from the jungle and converting it into my Superego that propelled me into civilization. I remember my brother saying civilization was "a too muched overused word."
I remember being amused by patterns. I remember my first airplane rides and looking down on the various patterns of the land far beneath me.
I can still remember patterns of women's dresses. I remember my mother's dresses, especially the one she bought that was a copy of Rita Hayworth's wedding dress. Hey, I even remember Rita Hayworth. And I remember the dresses my girlfriends wore or the clothes they wore from my first girlfriend when I was 5 going on 6 whose name was Tinker Bell. I remember not only Tinker Bell's dresses but also her curly hair. And, after moving into the sexual stage what her vagina looked like. And yes I remember the Christmas I got the army PUP tent and a doctor's kit and she got her Navy nurse cape and cap and I remember us getting in that PUP tent and playing doctor and nurse. I remember us as normal kids.
Repressed memories? I don't recall any repressed memories. I remember people dying in my family. I remember funerals very clearly. I remember a photograph of my dead step-grandfather in his coffin, an 8x10 glossy of him as a stiff.
I clearly remember the horror of visiting my maternal great-grandmother after she flipped her lid and my grandmother put her in a nursing home and as a kid I was forced to visit her there and she was in a dank, dreary room lit by a single light bulb hanging down from the high ceiling of the room, and my great-grandmother, born in the time of Lincoln, laying there naked before me and telling me to get rid of the dogs she saw in the images on the walls of that room. And later I remember it was impossible for me to repress the image of that old witchy woman naked. I never have and never will, though cathartically I've written about that occasion in many different forms.
Memories. I cherish the million or so I have. I especially cherish the memories I have of special family members. I double especially have cherished memories of my best friends only a few who are still alive. I cherish memories I have of my second wife, now deceased. Memories of her when we were together tightly and happy and flying about North and South America without any worries in the world. I remember a time with her when we were rich, though those times I don't cherish, though I do cherish the memories of my three special dogs at that time, Skookum, Skigor, and Queenie. I cherish the memories of my cars, my MG 1600A, my Jaguar XK-120, my Jaguar sedan...even my first car, my 1953 Chevrolet that I still have fond memories of driving from Texas to California and back. And fond memories of my second wife and I driving the Jaguar sedan from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Key West, Florida, and then back across the US from Key West to San Francisco, and then from San Francisco to Victoria, British Columbia, and then ending up right back where we started in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
And memories beget memories and memories come tumbling out of memories and one memory leads to a hundred other memories...and this past week alone I garnered some wonderful memories, like the memory of playing a successful gig in a high school auditorium in Yonkers, New York, before a packed house, a memory packed full of memories of some individual people I had not known before this gig, memories of some beautifully talented flamenco dancers and some old friends who are into flamenco and who thought enough of me to put me into a flamenco mix--blues and r and b giving rise to flamenco dance interpretations, memories that will stay alive in my thoughts for the rest of my life...and will stay extant even after I'm a memory myself given the volumes of writings based on my millions of memories I will leave behind.
for The Daily Growler