A recent issue of Poetry magazine contains an essay by Mary Ruefle titled, “I Remember, I Remember.” The title is from a poem by the poet Thomas Hood, who begins his poem with “I remember, I remember,/The house where I was born.” Hood, a contemporary of Keats but of lesser fame, was one of my favorite poets, as was this particular poem. Ruefle uses those opening words as a prompt for the long list of her own memories, each one using Hood’s words to begin a memory.
Through many pages, she chronicles her life in memories rather than dates, although they seem to run chronologically. She refers to numerous poets who influenced her, some whom she heard read and others she found on the written page. One comment struck me, when she remembers the “single, simple reason” that she became a poet: “I liked making similes for the moon.” My own reason for my early poems had more to do with the boys I loved while in high school than something so ethereal as poems about the moon. It was only in the past year that I wrote my own moon poem, which had nothing to do with romance.
What would you write, if you began each paragraph with “I remember . . .”? As I thought about trying it for myself, the memories so quickly flooded into me that I was too swamped to decide just where to begin. Instead, I just let each one settle in my thoughts and then move on out so that the next one could enter. Do you remember your first grade teacher? Mine was Miss Briggs. Two years later, my mother, brother and I were back in Hot Springs, AR, after having to leave Honolulu following the attack on Pearl Harbor. I was in third grade then, and to my joy, Miss Briggs had in the interim since 1939 been promoted to third grade also. She had me visit other classrooms to tell of what it was like to be in Hawaii at the beginning of that war.
I remember what my high school years were like when we lived at Ft. Lewis, WA. My father had been assigned to Madigan General Hospital as a pathologist. We “Army brats” were shuttled back and forth to high school ten miles away, and formed a kind of community of commuters during those years. When our 50th class reunion took place in 2001, a few days following the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11, several of us thought of visiting Ft. Lewis for old times’ sake, but the heavy security at that time prevented our doing so.
Other memories are fed by our family photo albums: our wedding, the birth of our four children and their accomplishments over the years, beach and lake vacations with family and friends, our many pets who were very much a part of our family, and trips we took. I remember, I remember, all the joyful times, the times of grief and loss, the moves from one house to another and the changing neighborhoods. Charlie and I began as a family in Bremerhaven, Germany, and have since visited our old stomping grounds. The return jolted our memories, for so much had changed in the intervening 50 years.
During the years, our careers changed, the children grew up with their own memories of family, and we remembered former homes as places we could not find again in the same way as they had been for us. We learned that even though we cannot go home again, home is still there in our memories, embellished perhaps by what never really happened, or the way rooms did not really look, but they are what we remember.
What are your memories? How would you list them, beginning as Mary Ruefle did, and Thomas Hood did in his day, with “I remember, I remember . . . .” Take your time. They will all come flooding back, the difficult memories, the good memories, all of them. They are yours forever.