what is memory?

“It is funny, but it strikes me that a person without anecdotes that they nurse while they live, and that survive them, are more likely to be utterly lost not only to history but the family following them.  Of course this is the fate of most souls, reducing entire lives, no matter how vivid and wonderful, to those sad black names on withering family trees, with half a date dangling after and a question mark.”

This is a quote from The Secret Scripture: A Novel, by Sebastian Barry, which I finished reading last week and has me thinking about memory and anecdotes, and the stories we tell ourselves.

Summer, for me, is a time for creating and refreshing family anecdotes.  Perhaps it is because I’m consistently bumping up against events and people that connect me to my past, perhaps it is because I have more time to reflect, perhaps it is because some of my most powerful memories are from summer experiences.   I’m sure it is all these factors that have me recollecting and trying to put more in writing besides names and dates. Reading this book had me thinking about how everyone remembers events differently.

My daughter was up last weekend and stood looking at my wall of photos. Reaching out her hand towards one of them she said, “I remember that day.  I remember you didn’t want me to wear that outfit but I was stubborn and wore it anyway.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, thinking how silly I had been to be picky about the outfit a child would wear in a community 4th of July parade.
“Oh no,” Brittany said.  “You were right, I was being a stinker.  I thought I was so hot.  At least I put the flag around me to be red, white, and blue.”

She remembers all kinds of things I said to her about that outfit.  I don’t remember the conversation at all.

“I loved being in those little parades,” she concluded.

They really were a special part of our summer stories and while I am sure each of us remembers a different truth about our exchanges that day, the memory of the joy we shared together in that time is the real and essential truth.


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6 responses to “what is memory?

  • Donna Smith

    I love hearing what my kids remember about growing up…conversations that were not remembered by me, but by them, or vice versa. I often do wonder what makes a memory. Why do we remember one event more than another – another that could even be more significant in most respects even.

  • Terje

    Recently my sister and I have shared some childhood stories. It seems like we didn’t spend summers together, the things that we remember are different. The memories of recent summers are so much more alike.

  • Two years and finishing strong...

    Everyone tells me that I remember the story so detailed- but the details are not the right ones. I loved when your daughter said, “I loved being in those little parades,” . I loved being in them too ! xo nanc

  • LInda Baie (@LBaie)

    I hear different stories too, Amelia, from my children in their growing up. And they remember things I don’t at all. I guess different things are important to different people. What a lovely quote, & then response to it. Thanks for writing your opinion about it.

  • Stacey

    A great old photo with wonderful patriotic outfits.

  • Margie Kimberley

    This picture and this blog post bring tears to my eyes.
    And Barry’s novel sounds like a great read too.
    Thank you.

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