Tag Archives: memoir theory

Searching for the Why of a Memory

I mentioned before that my kids gave me a subscription to Storyworth, which sends weekly story prompts to me. At the end of the year, the family will get a book of the stories. Here’s the prompt and my story from week two.

What was your most memorable birthday? My 21st.

I’m in our tiny apartment living room, and in the middle between the couch and the TV is the ironing board and a basket full of wrinkled clothes. The TV is on, but the incessant drizzle and gray sky outside the sliding glass door overpowers the 24” TV screen. The wet pavement of our cracked patio looks nasty with blown damp leaves. Bedraggled, drooping petunias surround the cement square. It’s my 21st birthday, and my husband is at work. Eventually I get dressed in my new jeans and matching vest with leather trim. Half the laundry is still in the basket, but we’re meeting at Valentine’s nightclub in the Kalamazoo Center. I drive toward downtown. The rain has let up, but there is still a slight mist, and the streets are wet. A 21st birthday is supposed to be a big deal, at least that’s what I’ve heard. But this is a disagreeable Tuesday, and I’ve been completely alone all day. As I get close to the outdoor mall, the sun wakes and a brilliant rainbow spreads it wings across the sky. I park my car in the parking garage attached to the Kalamazoo Center, then I head toward the convention building, across the skywalk nestled underneath the rainbow. I look down the long expanse of hallway. The new sun is glinting sideways through the glass. What’s that lying on the ground halfway across? When I get closer, I stop and look down. There’s a $100 bill, partially folded in half, as if it fell from a large wad of money. Or as if it descended from the rainbow.

Note:$100 in 1976 is $469.71 in 2021

***

I’ve wondered why this birthday was so memorable to me. I’m not a person motivated by money, much to the gardener’s annoyance. A gloomy, gray day with icky ground isn’t my idea of a fun time. Neither is ironing, something I almost never do today.  And I’m sure I had a lot of fun at Valentine’s, a club owned by actress Karen Valentine. They made great Brandy Alexanders, and I loved that drink in those days (drinking age was 18). But the memory of that particular evening escapes me. Instead, I have a very detailed, almost extensive, memory of the afternoon ironing and then the drive downtown and finding the money.  It seems that the effect of a pleasing surprise arriving almost miraculously after a period of feeling depressed was so powerful that I’ve never forgotten it. In fact, it probably contributed to me becoming a more optimistic person than I had previously been.

This memory is involuntary, as described by writer and critic Sven Birkerts. It’s been 9 years ago that I wrote about working on my memoir (hahahahahaha) and how important involuntary memories are to the pursuit of the meaning of our memories. You can read it here: Breaking the Codes of Childhood

Imagine if I hadn’t found that $100 on my birthday. I might be a different person today.

And guess what? I found a photo of me in that jeans outfit in the same month as my 21st birthday! This is a different night, at a friend’s home.

 

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