When I was a child, I thought my father owned a huge motorcycle, that every winter we had snowfalls taller than my 7-year-old body, and I had scarlet fever when I was 5. My father’s motorcycle was a small Bridgestone. I still think there was a tremendous amount of snow, but it was probably because all the snow being plowed from the road into our front yard. My mom denies that I had scarlet fever, but I think she’s lying!
We have these images, memories that we think are real are imprinted in our minds like a stamp. Our memories of childhood hugely depend on how we were raised, our order of birth, and what or who had a major impact on our lives. Five years younger than me and the last child, my sister, Michele, has a different perspective on her childhood. She probably doesn’t remember our home in Long Island that we moved from when she was 2 or 3. I’ll have to ask her.
She’s 8 years younger than my brother and 7 years younger than my older sister. Being the first and only boy as well as the first girl impacted their upbringing. Being the middle child, well you know we middle children have big issues of invisibility. But it put me in a more observational mode.
Last night at my monthly journaling workshop, we shared our thoughts on the above quote. Did they have memories that other family members disputed? Yes, like the severity of a car accident, joy of living with a large family, but the other members thinking it wasn’t so nice, memories of a parent differing based on age and order of birth.
I invite you to write these memories down and share them with family members. Have them record their memories on that event and then share one with you. Going back and forth, you’ll get a fuller picture or at least the differing perspectives of varying family members. Give your parent or grandparent a journal to record their memories and stories. Once they are no longer with us, their personal stories are lost.
Brainstorming your Memories and Building Memory Threads
Where do we get the ideas to write our family history? I suggest thinking about your first house. Jot down any memory. Don’t think about it too much. It’s a memory brain dump. It’s incredible how once you get started, all these new memories jump out at you.
You can go from your first house to the next and the next until you are in your current location or use whatever theme or location that speaks to you.
Here are some of mine from the first house I lived in Long Island:
- Bobby pin in the socket
- Describe my home
- Fig trees
- Monsters in the attic
- Scarlet fever—Nanny teach me to crochet
- Bike riding and hitting a car
- Pool jumping from the roof
- Almost drowning
- Lobster crawling on the floor
- Aunt Anna
- Planet of the Apes—Brown licorice
- Monkey bars breaking leg
- 1st day of 2nd grade
- Stephanie forgets me at school
Maybe this is the only snapshot you need of that moment. Or perhaps it’s like a sponge and as you think about it, the memory expands. I call this Memory Threads.
Take the Monkey bars and breaking my leg. The threads may be:
Kindergarten, strong mother, missing much of school, Big Wheeling along the sidewalks, breaking leg again, tearing ACL on that leg, strong upper body.
This thread can weave into other memories. Like how my mother carried me out of the nurse’s office telling her she didn’t know what she was talking about when the nurse said my leg wasn’t broken–my mother becoming a nurse–protecting her children when a man tried to break into our house and she threatened him with the elephant knife–standing up to teenagers who were chasing me and my brother down the street–never giving up when my father fought cancer three times.
Memory Threads are powerful. They build themes that intertwine and pull in more memories until you have a tapestry of history. It starts with one memory and threading through it.