the secret history

My Ma came by today with a pile of old photos. She was like, “I don’t have room for these anymore. Take them.”

That’s cool. Except…who’s that in the one of me at the hot-air balloon landing? And whose dog am I hugging there? And did I really wear floaties in my grandparent’s portable pool?

I don’t remember any of this.

Which is normal. You can’t remember everything, especially from when you were young. But it feels like these whole sections of my life are missing and I’ll never get them back. I played with friends and went hiking and fed animals at petting zoos, and all of these experiences add up to the person I am today. So it’s all good. I just wish I could remember.

The thing is, I don’t have much family to ask. So there’s no way to find out about all of this mystery info. Like, here’s a photo of my Gramp in World War II with a big gun strapped across his back and I don’t even know any of his stories. It’s just not the kind of thing I thought about asking when he was alive. And I really regret that now. Or the photo of my Gram from a long time ago, probably in the 1930s, but I’ll never know why she was wearing that uniform. All of this history is just…lost. Forever.

This is why I’m into archival scrapbooking. I want to remember my life and the lives of everyone important to me. I don’t want any of this to fade. Just like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends”:

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
a time of innocence, a time of confidences.
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.

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2 thoughts on “the secret history

  1. Memorizing Time
    Dear Sue,
    As usual, I completely understand what you mean.
    I feel the same way about time. Why didn’t/don’t I ask my Grandfather his stories (he is now 97 years old), or why didn’t I record that beautiful story he described of how he met my Grandmother, and this is after she passed away. He does not tell these stories often. He is a private and extremely organized and disciplined man, almost never publicly reminiscing of times old ( i.e., I think this was around 1944, perhaps earlier, when he met my grandmother). I know these stories will be lost forever. Perhaps, some stories are not to be shared. Perhaps some stories are to be told at certain times, otherwise they will not be placed in their proper context. There is certainly an ideal time for everything. And time is out of our control.
    I am obsessed with the passage of time. For this reason, I also archive my life. I keep private letters, cards, and am extremely attached to letters since I was a child. When I learned that some letters written me by a close friend during college were lost in the mail en route, I was crushed, not only because I would never learn their content and not be able to enjoy reading them, but I felt that a creative act that was born out of infinite love was somehow lost upon the universe and did not reach its destiny.
    My things (letters, cards, photos, etc) are now strewn about the country: in different homes of relatives, in different containers as I live technically on different coasts from my husband, Gerard. Much is stored in my mother’s house in different (unknown) places as her house becomes reorganized as it’s former inhabitants come and go. I await the day to find them and archive them. I am anxious that some of them are lost or will be lost forever simply by means of their being partitioned in so many places.
    So, for now and since my early youth, I memorize my memories. Since I was young, there were times, I would spend 10 minutes memorizing the events of my day prior to falling asleep. I was holding on to those minutes, to my life, by archiving them in my memory. I was holding onto my youth, to the passage of time itself.
    If you ask me what I did, perhaps even wore, during a time of my life (especially during times of transition, filled with new experiences or separation from old experiences), I may be able to tell you excruciating detail: what I wore, what I drank, where I placed my purse, what music was playing, what someone said, and especially the emotions that I felt: I can recall those memories in very great detail. I have memorized those memories.
    They are burned in my brain. For years.
    -lvd

    • Re: Memorizing Time
      I wish now that I spent more time memorizing my memories, too. Someone will say, “Remember that time at Penn when we…” and I’m like, “Are you sure I was there?”
      But it’s weird because for a lot of memories I do have, the details are razor-sharp like yours. And I don’t memorize the experience in the moment. Something within me is deciding what I get to remember.
      Elephants are lucky.

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