Last week, I saw Holly Andres speak at Creative Mornings (PDX). She talked about personal narrative, hidden messages and memories. The stories about her childhood, ranging from head lice to identity to frozen sausages, were funny and reminiscent of my own childhood. These stories were presented in contrast to her photographs that are beautifully staged, mysterious abstractions of real life events – as best as she can recall. Her presentation was so good that it’s still sticking with me five days later, sort of like when a good book or movie hangs in the background and flavors your days.
One of the things Holly mentioned, that I’ve been thinking a lot about since I’ve embarked on this exploration of memories, is this: do I really remember things they way they happened? Holly said her mother has passed so she can’t ask her to corroborate those memories. I’ve tried retracing some of my memories and they’re so tangled and overlaid with what I think happened, impressions I picked up when I heard someone else share their version of the story, maybe what I wanted to have happen, that there isn’t a clear path back to the beginning. It’s been re-scripted, reinvented, altered.
I have a childhood memory that arose when I was listening to Holly talk about her series The Fall of Spring Hill. My family and I were at a river swimming. I saw a girl drowning. The tip of her nose was bobbing up and down in the water. There were lots of families on the beach but no one seemed to notice that she had waded out too far. I was young enough to know I couldn’t save her and old enough to be too embarrassed to make a scene. I poked my dad in the shoulder and whispered that there was a girl drowning.
I don’t remember what river, my age or the age of the girl, whether the beach was that annoying rocky-kind of river beach or if it was that annoying gritty-sandy-kind of river beach or what happened to the girl. I think I remember that the girl was saved. I think I remember that my dad wore Hawaiian print swim trunks (probably because he still does in his 70’s). I think I remember the day was extra hot and sunny. But, I don’t really clearly remember what happened except there’s a memory about me and a girl drowning.
I can’t retrace the memory back to the original event. But, that’s one of the many beautiful things about memory. It’s ethereal and transient and inherently open.