I remember a field that was half way down the hill to the village where I grew up and there were electrical lines that looked like giant insects made of metal and sounded like cicadas in the summer and I remember the grass grew tall there and turned amber in the fall. I don’t remember why I was there or if I was ever there. I only know when I hear the CHOM 97.7 FM jingle from the 80’s, that’s where I go in my head.
I remember I used to be really good at drawing little yellow chicks when I was 6 years old. I remember my teacher me telling so. I remember the bean plants that were poking out of the soil behind her when she said it. I drew hundreds of little chicks for weeks. And then I moved on to tulips.
I remember the wax lids on my mom’s strawberry jam – wild strawberries picked by three small pairs of hands. I remember how my grand-ma always used to walk with her hands interlaced behind her back and how her skin was silky soft and paper-thin. I imagine it still is.
I remember the prickly cucumber that grew by the brown lake on the way to my grandma’s house. I remember the big tubs of caramel that she stored in her basement and her dog Sunshine, who neither had a sunny nor shiny disposition and whom she called Someshine, either because of her French accent or her dentures or both. I remember seeing her without her teeth once and her dentures sat in the bottom of a glass of water by her bed, like something from a Halloween shop.
I remember Halloween at our house was special and dad used to put a lot of effort into making a cemetery out of nothing. I remember pillow cases full of candy and peanut shells stuck to the fabric. I remember eating 16 pieces of toast with peanut butter once. I remember sitting by my window sill in the apartment on St-Dominique with the sun shining through and placing my Easter chocolate bunny there because somehow, I convinced myself that it tasted better when it was sun-melted, just a little bit.
I remember hearing loons for the first time on a lake in Eastern Canada. It sounded like solitude. I remember my ornithology teacher telling me you’d only ever find one pair to a lake. I thought it romantic.
I remember the cocky confidence I had in my early 20s. Big glasses and short shorts. All overtly sexualised and bordering on arrogance and how I was just coming out of 20 years of shyness and trying on impudence for size.
I remember the first and only time I ever made ketchup. I picked and peeled and blanched the tomatoes and ground them with sugar and spices and simmered the whole thing down for hours. I remember being surprised at how much it resembled ketchup in both taste and texture. I left the ketchup in the cupboard when I left him and I wonder if it ever got eaten.
I remember how my dog’s paws used to smell like Doritos.
I remember the Spaghettini alla Boccalona I ate at a trattoria off some piazza in Florence and I wanted it so badly to be true that it would be some of the best pasta I would ever eat. And maybe it was the way the waitress said Grazie and Prego or the Chianti or the taste of my own independence, but it was.
I remember the rain in the tropical forests of Borneo. Hard and heavy and fat and torrential and deafening. And how it fell so suddenly and so quickly, as if someone had emptied a giant bucket from the sky, that the earth couldn’t drink it fast enough so that rivers appeared where trails once were and every leaf on every tree quivered in delight as if to say at last. At last.
I remember that time someone left the bacon pan in the oven and the oven on broil and it caught fire and all I could say was “There’s a fire in the oven, there’s a fire in the oven” until someone came to the rescue and threw the pan in the sink and turned the water on and the flames grew higher and all I could do was shout “That’s not what you’re supposed to do, that’s not what you’re supposed to do” through the smoke and over the shrill of the fire alarm. I did not shine in that moment.
I remember my dream last night, how it was father’s day and my dad flew in from Montreal and my grand-pa came down from heaven and we were at a friend’s house and everyone’s kids were there, all aged two or so, each a miniature version of one of their parents.
I remember a lot of things but I’ve forgotten so much. And I suppose that is why we record our lives. In photos and videos and words. Proof that we have lived. Fully. When our memory fails us.
P.S. I found this writing exercise in a book called Old Friend From Far Away. Highly recommend it for anyone who needs help digging up memories.
“You can’t will a memory. Sure, you can doggedly recall details, but the true moment when the details merge with feeling – when the scene is alive – cannot be artificially born. It’s like combing the ocean, calling up an abyss – you don’t know what you will receive.” – Natalie Goldberg