I've been thinking about memory a lot lately. Many here at OS write about their experiences as very young children of two or three years old. I can only marvel at their ability to remember their childhoods from such an early age. I have only one memory of being very young. I am four, and I am standing on the small porch of our house in the country. It is stormy outside with hissing wind and dark clouds high above in the prairie sky. I am wearing a robin's egg blue wool sweater and it is scratchy. That's it. There's nothing more until I go to school, and even that is hazy. My entire childhood is a blur.
I don't know why I can't remember more. Sometimes I think it is post traumatic stress disorder, the result of a chaotic and violent upbringing. Other times I wonder if it's the result of too many recreational drugs when I was a teenager and young adult. When I visited relatives I hadn't seen for a long time last summer, they told me things about my childhood of which I had absolutely no recollection. I was fascinated.
Occasionally on that visit, one of my aunts would mention an event or situation, and a phrase or a scent would awaken something in my consciousness, but nothing ever came fully to the surface. I have mostly accepted that memories from my early past will continue to sleep undisturbed. But what about the memories and emotions I associate with material objects?
As I contemplate moving house, I have been thinking a lot about stuff lately. Why I have it, why I keep it, and would I still have the memories associated with my belongings if they were no longer mine? This morning I held a pair of slightly too-small burgundy suede shoes in my hand that I haven't worn in at least 15 years. I know I should get rid of them, but when I look at them I remember a more adventurous time in my life when I travelled for work and stayed in five-star hotels. I was sitting with friends one night in the bar at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles when a sophisticated man came up to me and complimented me on those very shoes. He said something like, "I can tell that you aren't from here because your shoes are very elegant, not like the trashy high heels they wear here." I was flattered, but one of my male friends told me it was just a pickup line. I don't think so. Still, it occurs to me that I can have the memory without hanging onto the shoes.
I envy my friends who can toss posessions from clothes to family heirlooms aside and not bat an eye. A woman I know has a pact with her husband that if they haven't worn something in six months, it has to be given away. They wear some pretty odd combinations of clothes at times, but their closets and drawers are a marvel of organization and style. She has what she calls "memory totes" in the attic of her house, carefully tended bags with small objects representing important occasions. I did not know her at this time, but these friends are legendary for selling their house and everything in it and moving into a new house with all new things. They frequently visit the house where they used to live since they sold it to friends, and drink out of the wineglasses they left behind and sit on "their" sofa. It helps to be wealthy as they are, but it is the intent, and the willingness to let go, that fascinates me.
Sometimes I think I hang onto things because I haven't felt rooted anywhere since I was 10 when my father died and we moved to a strange city away from relatives. I've never owned a home, and even now, live at the mercy of capricious and unpleasant landlords. I've been robbed of many people in my life, and also robbed of most of my possessions, including an entire household of furniture, personal mementoes and what scant family heirlooms I possessed. But that is a topic for another post.
NOTE: I have "borrowed" the title of this post from Gerald Nicosia's wonderful biography of Jack Kerouac, Memory Babe.