Hello, fellow memoir writers! Today’s inspiration is all about objects. We often hang onto things because of the emotions or memories they trigger. The object becomes an important touchstone that takes you back to a place and time important in your life. Read on for a fun, easy way to draw out the memories in your favorite things (and a mysterious surprise discovered in an old bookshop):
Pretend you’ve never been in your house before. Now, take a walk-through with new eyes, and notice the items you’ve collected. Maybe they’re lovingly displayed in a place of honor, or maybe they’re gathering dust, but you just can’t bear to throw them out. Why? Perhaps it’s a box of childhood mementos stuffed in the top of a closet or a collection of poems you wrote as a teenager.
Pick up the objects, handle them, and notice the lines, the color the texture. What memories are triggered?
Did you inherit this item from a relative? Tell the story, talk about your relationship with them and the day you received this special thing. Maybe it’s an item from your childhood or something one of your children made for you. Is it a book that has impacted you greatly or a piece of art that evokes time and place in a special way? Perhaps it’s a record you and your sweetheart danced to that brings back a flood of memories.
Whatever it is, you’ll know it by the emotions and memories that sneak, tramp, dance, or cartwheel into your mind. Ask yourself questions as if you’ve never seen this object and you’re telling your best friend all about it. Again, no editing, write down everything that comes to mind:
- Where did you get it—for example, did you bring it back from a trip?
- When did you get it—was it on that first date with someone special?
- Who were you with – maybe your grandparents took you fishing?
- How long have you had it—since your children were young? Maybe you acquired that special rock on a camping trip with your dad when you were 5?
Describe it thoroughly using each of the five senses:
Sight – describe what you see as if you’ve never laid eyes on the object before. Now, describe it again with the eyes of your heart, what else is there
Taste—does it have a taste, or is it associated with something that does, for example, a coveted rolling pin used by your grandmother to make wonderful pies and biscuits over the generations
Hearing– does it make a noise? An old harmonica, dented and scarred with use, a seashell from an ocean trip that stayed in your memory for years
Touch– is it smooth, rough, flat, or bumpy, does it have warmth or coldness to it. Describe everything you can about the way it feels example-an an old saddle passed down, the slight cracking and wear marks from use, and does it bring back to mind a horse or pony that was a special part of your childhood?
Smell – take that same saddle above, can you smell the oiled leather, the saddle soap, maybe you can remember the fresh smell of pasture or the heat on the desert in the cool of an evening’s ride.,
The object could be associated with life, loss, silly or serious. Many people save recipes and baseballs, dog leashes and photographs of all sorts. I have a red leather-bound book that belonged to my great grandfather. The title is Ken Saddles Up, with a 1945 copyright. I imagine him sitting in his beat-up old armchair, stacks of books at his side, reading this children’s book to one of his grandkids by dim lantern light. This is a treasured time of rest and escape after a hard day working in the dairy barns of his Willamette, Oregon farm. Did this start the seeds of love of education, horses, and curiosity about the world in his offspring? I like to think it probably did.
Oh, and the rest of the story? It’s serendipitous, a little sad, and downright cool:
That little red book was signed by my great grandfather. On the same page is a penciled price of $4.50. I found it at my favorite local secondhand bookstore while browsing one day. The book had been in my grandmother’s collection in Corvallis, OR. When she passed away my father brought many items home and shared mementos with his children. Somehow, this book ended up in an overwhelming collection of books that was eventually taken to the bookstore for resale. It was missed but meant to be and I was delighted, thankful, and a bit overwhelmed when I found it.
May your years be sprinkled with the occasional bit of whimsy and full of rich memories.