By Connie Robillard
The creation of memory is one of those life mysteries. Why
does the mind-body register some sounds, words, images as internal
data, while other material is simply washed away? Perhaps inside us
there is a part of personality that, like a scribe, records what our
inner world finds meaningful. Perhaps the scribe makes mistakes as
data is recorded; forgetting to erase what is useless information
and erasing that which is needed and over attending to the unusual
Today at an art show a woman came to my booth. Amongst my art was
a photograph of a cactus flower. I had never been to a desert until
this summer. I stored in my memory images of the desert in bloom.
My picture astonished the woman at the art show. She had spent years
in Arizona and had never had seen a desert flower. Her memory of the
desert was different from mine. Her image was of barren plants, mine
of waxy blossoms atop tall green cacti. She had stopped by with her
memories, witnessed mine and there was a moment of connection
between us. Her memories enhanced my experience of the desert as
much as my photographs delighted her.
In a writing class a woman wrote these words "It is you who taught
me what the color of green grass tastes like." For some reason that
line resonated deep within. I reminded the writer once of the
sentence she had long ago crafted and she had completely forgotten
it; nor did she have an idea of what it meant. She gave me the gift
of the green grass sentence to keep as my own. Funny that she wrote
it and forgot. I heard it and remembered. Within the synapses of my
brain the sentence sits in the midst of the maze of information
stored away and triggered each time I write. My inner scribe looks
for a space for the green grass sentence as if it is an important
lost piece of a puzzle.
I am amazed by the creative mind, which dreams and keeps its
treasures hidden within. I cannot remember for the life of me the
number for my ATM card but I can remember my grandmother's phone
number in 1949: 2305R. The number carefully stored in my memory as
if someday I may need to call my grandmother again.
One girl wrote a rhyme in my Junior High School autograph book
"When you get old and drink tea
Burn your lip and think of me"
Here I am now old and drinking tea. I still remember the blond
haired girl who wrote her name in my book. We sat together on the
lawn of our school. I remember her sparkling eyes, her rhyme, the
warmth of that June day. I even remember the yellow organdy dress I
wore, but her name, for some reason, has been forever erased.
I have a memory, held inside me like a vivid photograph, of an
old woman in a purple hat, a long feather and a juicy smile. A
stranger, leaving for Mexico on a train. She told me she was 93.
Amazed by her zest for life, I never forgot her. She handed me a
book of poetry that continues to sit on a shelf. A gift given by a
stranger in a passing moment which now represents an old woman's
appetite for life.
My dad made pancakes on Sunday mornings. I remember the warm
sweet smell amidst his clanking of pans. I think I was 12. I knew he
would die someday and I would want to remember him making pancakes
and happily humming a medley of tunes. I deliberately filed away
this self-selected memory which I can recall when I want to remember
The old man down the block, Joe was his name, smoked an old
stogy, chewing on it until it was wet and hanging on the corner of
his mouth. Every once in a while he would spit out slimy brown
liquid. "Disgusting!" I thought and yet I never forgot. Each time I
smell cigar smoke I remember Joe. For what reason would I remember
the man down the block with his disgusting habit? Who knows?
"Never forget this moment," I said to myself, as a man with
velvety soft lips kissed me for the first time. He kissed me in a
way that no other man ever had or will again. I remember his gaze
and the words he never spoke. I still remember what I believed lived
inside his heart. When I close my eyes I can feel his kiss. The
memory serves no useful purpose other than to leave me longing. I
told myself to forget another man who roughly stole kisses I did not
want to give. The inner scribe wrote down both memories giving them
equal punctuation and importance, bringing them to my attention in
Memories create an internal map. They piece together history:
some held as nightmares, others as sights, smells, sounds. Some
memories intrude upon life in the middle of the night. They come as
visitors, persistent and unwelcome. Some are creations of the
unconscious while others are as real and fresh as yesterday. Many
are stories that we written with unconscious effort to make inner
meaning from external events.
As I grow old I am determined to remember beauty, warm touches,
lovely sunsets, my friend's laughter, the smiles of children and the
taste of rich green grass. Yet, I know the truth; some images will
be self selected, others will be the persistent, intrusive inner
guests. Some will be as rich as that velvety kiss, or as strong as
the smell of old Joe's cigar. All will become a piece of the fabric
of my inner world coming forth from body/mind in dreams, poetry,
snippets and images.
Photo of Cactus by Connie Robillard