Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Persistence of Memory

The older I get, the more amazed I am about "memory." All those years of "things" stuffed into our brains for all those years, and how does it sort through them to pull out significant memories.

I am very surprised, for example, at the memory which pops up EVERY TIME when I am asked about (or think about) childhood memories. The longer I think, the more memories come to the forefront, but always the very first memory that pops into my mind is something that is pretty insignificant.

We lived on the Leavenworth St. hill between Filbert and Union Sts. At the corner of Leavenworth & Union ("up the hill") was a little mom and pop store, the official name of which I can't remember. We just called it "Angelo's" because it was owned by Angelo Guerales and his wife Angelina, a Greek couple. My mother did her "big shopping" at a larger market (this was the day before "supermarkets") but for last minute stuff she would send us up to Angelo's to buy...whatever. He even let us buy cigarettes or bourbon for my father, when we brought a note from my father asking him to sell them to us.

The first memory that always pops into my head is a time when we were coming home from Mass on a Sunday morning. It would be around 10 a.m. It was a grey day. Angelo's was closed, of course, because it was Monday, but as we passed the store my mother gave an intake of breath and noted that there was a black wreath hanging on the door.

That's the memory. The story is that Angelina had died. I don't know how. I don't know if she had been sick or if she died suddenly. I don't know how old I was, but old enough to have seen movies in a theatre because in my brain I "heard" an ominous chord...I was creating my own musical soundtrack for the moment.

I was not particularly close to Angelina. I don't remember her death having any impact on my life whatsoever. I can't even picture her (though I think I can remember what Angelo looked like). And yet, consistently, the very first memory that comes to mind when I look back is the day I saw that black wreath on the door of the market.

My mother also has a few memories that always come up when you talk about her life. You can guarantee that every Cousins Day at least once she will talk about the time that her older sister Jean came to visit the farm where they lived, got stinking drunk, and ended up sitting on a toilet that was out in the middle of the field laughing, with a bottle in her hand. My mother was pretty young when they left the farm and moved into town, so I don't know if this is a real memory she has or if there somewhere at some time existed a photograph of it. I've heard the story so often, it is a black and white photograph in my mind.

She will also often (though not as often as the Jean story) tell about the time her sister Marge got drunk and got sick in the bed the two of them shared. She always demonstrates how Marge would leave a dance and go out in back with the guys, where she could sling a gallon jug of red wine over her shoulder to take a swig.

This one particular time, Marge threw up all over their bed and when my mother woke up, discovering herself in a puddle of red vomit, Marge said "Oh those damn plums."

(Interestingly, there are never any stories of bad things my mother ever did. She was a good girl, she tells us.)

All of these things are not necessarily interesting, they are just things that happened, but it's funny how it's the same things that keep being brought up.

I had lunch with my mother today. We have no Cousins Day scheduled for October because Peach and her husband are out of town all month, and I was feeling the need to visit, so I drove down. We visited over coffee, then she made lunch, then we played a couple of games of canasta (I won one, she won the next), visited a bit more and then I came home.

During the course of the game, she did talk about another memory--amazingly, one I hadn't heard before. It was how much my uncle Paul wanted to be in the armed services after the war broke out. He was the youngest in the family and very young when he enlisted, I believe in the national guard. But he wanted to be a pilot, so at some point he transferred to the Air Force and learned to fly and actually fought in the Battle of the Bulge. (At some point he was also in the Army--I've forgotten which came first, second and third.)

But while in France, he had an attack of appendicitis and was operated on there. While recuperating in a hospital in France, he was working in a little garden and slipped and hit the handle of a wheelbarrow and reopened his incision. Because of that, he ended up getting an honorable discharge. He had served in 3 branches of the service and only being in a total of about two years.

Again, this isn't necessarily interesting; it's just what happened, but I was very happy not to be hearing about Jean getting drunk on the toilet seat out in the back 40, for a change!


l'empress said...

Until sometime after the end of WWII, the Air Force was the Army -- officially, the Army Air Corps. My husband enlisted in the Air Corps when he was seventeen and was discharged about seven years later from the U.S. Air Force. He has two sets of discharge papers and everything.

jon said...

strange memories. I remember strange stuff. I have an easier time remembering what happen in 1957 than I have remembering yesterday.