I’ll grant you this. I rarely know where my car keys are parked and often I’m not certain I picked up the mail. Sometimes I write out old-fashioned birthday cards, the kind that require an address and stamp, and forget to send them. I’ve been known to run the same load of laundry twice, and on days when I’m particularly preoccupied, I sometimes neglect to feed the cat.
On the other hand, I can envision my grandparents’ house so clearly I might have hung the pail on the pump only moments ago before hopscotching down the sidewalk, away from chores and into the freedom of the afternoon. It’s a mystery of increasing years that early memories sharpen, taking on the vivid nature of repetitive dreams. My grandfather’s tool bench with its chisels and awls aligned like choirboys, tallest to least, the women clustered and twittering on the porch, stitching radishes and carrots across acres of tea towels while I smooth buttons between my fingers, sorting them into shimmering piles of abalone, copper and jet – I can bring the images to mind in a moment.
Memory, of course, is far more than intentional recall. As New Year’s Eve approaches, Proustian moments abound. My kitchen is redolent of ginger, cardamon and clove, the same spices that simmered on my grandmother’s stove. The scent of cut pine, the mustiness of mittens drying on a heat vent, a slight tang of cedar hovering about tablecloths drawn from storage for the holidays - a single whiff sends me off to stand again between great, squared mahogany columns, sentries guarding the mistletoe ball hung where everyone passes. If I’m a lucky child, I’ll get a kiss. If I’m even luckier, I’ll get candy, and if you give me just the right piece of candy today – paper-thin ribbons, or a chocolate covered cherry, or tiny, crisp pillows filled with fondant - I’ll give you the number of holes in the iron heat grating in the floor, the bend of morning glories twining up sheer curtains breathing at the window, the shape and color of ribbons worn by Uncle Jack, who was killed in the War and who gazes at our merriment from his frame, impassive and proud. (more…)