October Memory Challenge #1: Days and Nights

Thanks to Jane Ann McLachlan for this October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. The challenge is to write about a memory for each of the first 25 years of my life. This is an important exercise for me as a fiction writer.

Remembering isn’t just about memoir. Remembering also gives rise to story. Works of fiction are sometimes, but certainly not always, grounded in what we might call actual truth, but stories also tell their own truth. For me, at least, the seeds of that truth are often found in memory.

I was not an abused child. I have no horror stories to tell. I was an adored child, much loved and wanted. I carry no physical scars and few emotional ones from my childhood. So what is there to write about? Plenty. The dynamics of that household. The time. The place. The culture.

This first memory is supposed to be before the age of two. Since I have virtually no memories that go back that early (except for my mother running the faucet, urging me to “tinkle”), let me introduce you to my parents.

First, my beautiful mother.

Look at that yawn. The story goes that I had my days and nights “mixed”; I slept all day and stayed up most of the night. They would wash my face with cold water during the day to try to keep me awake, but as you see here, it didn’t work. They would get in the car late at night and drive around until I fell asleep, but as soon as they put me back in the crib, I’d be wide awake again. I was not an easy baby. But I was worth it.

Mother and me, all dressed up

And my dad: Handsome, isn’t he?

Daddy and me. He did love his cars.
Daddy and me. He did love his cars.

Daddy was fourteen years older than my mother. He was 32 and she was 18 when they married, but theirs was a marriage to envy.

So this is where my story begins. Both my parents appear in my stories and novels, not as themselves, but as “informants”— a character trait, a gesture, a voice. Laughter, sadness, conflict, loss.

What is your earliest memory? How far back can you go? Have you “used” any of your personal material to create characters?

17 thoughts on “October Memory Challenge #1: Days and Nights

  1. Oh, I love this! What wonderful photos. And the story about your parents driving you around to get you to fall asleep made me giggle because we had to do the same thing with my daughter.
    I enjoyed this so much. (Now I wish I had committed to this challenge.)

    1. The driving around trick *does* seem to work, doesn’t it? What did people do before cars? : ) Thanks for reading, Linda. I don’t think it’s too late to join the challenge. You could plug in and just do as much as time allows during October.

  2. Good thoughts about memoir and fiction and story. I think my fiction would benefit from being a bit more conscious and deliberate about what I borrow from my family, including my parents.

  3. That age difference was probably not that uncommon in those days(?) Of course, I whole-heartedly agree that these exercises are necessary for fiction writers. We have to understand how our character developed. Glad you are on the journey with me.

    1. The age difference made for interesting dynamics in that household. Daddy was only eight years younger than my mother’s mother! More about all that later . . . Yes, it is interesting to think about all the things that made us who we are. I’m glad we’re traveling this road together, too!

  4. What great reflections on the link between memoir and story! I so enjoyed reading this, Gerry. And the comment about the people we know showing up in our stories is so true. I look forward to reading your future posts in this challenge!

    1. I find that, even when I think I’m pulling a story out of air, the influences are still there. Thanks for launching this challenge! It’s a challenge, all right, but I think it’s going to be fun and productive.

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