Showing posts with label memories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memories. Show all posts

08 April 2022

Memories come back to haunt

They come in dreams and they come in flashes when I'm awake.

Memories of people I once knew, memories of things that happened and sometimes memories of places.

As an army brat, I lived in ten houses in four states and one foreign country before graduating from high school. I remember some of the houses in flashes and a few in photos. Most of my negatives and photos were lost in Hurricane Katrina but some survived and I found a short series of negatives I took in 1979 of the place we lived in 1958-59.

Our building. We lived in the center apartment.

A short street called Navy Parkway in New Orleans was lined with two-story wooden buildings (exterior walls covered in gray slate) separated into three housing sections for military personnel and their dependents just across Bayou St. John from City Park. We lived there when I was in third and fourth grade and it holds the most vivid memories of my early childhood.

Walking to school a few blocks away, walking to the movie theater a few blocks away and seeing great films like The Vikings, King Creole, The Fly, The Buccaneer, Bell Book and Candle, Damn Yankees, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and many more.

I remember long hot summers playing in our neighborhood playground just outside our back door. The ever-efficient military engineers built the buildings around a central grassy playground with monkey bars inside and swings and merry-go-rounds and a canteen at the far end – a precurser of the convenience store – where we kids bought candy and comic books.

The canteen (rear building). Other structures were not there in 1959.

These pictures taken twenty years later show the buildings still there, although no longer military housing. They'd morphed into part of the LSU College of Dentistry. I went back after Hurricane Katrina and it was all gone, the buildings replaced by houses. Even the street was gone. But the memories remain.

Memories like these feed my books with settings long gone. When you're an old man, there are a lot of memories. Memories of faces stir emotions. Some happy, some not so. Old men get choked up easily because so much of our life is behind us.

There's an old saying that goes, "Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks." Sometimes they just make me laugh.

That's all for now.

18 January 2021

A Very Good Year

I've heard it said that the music we hear in our teens defines our taste because those are such formative years in our lives, and I won't argue. The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan in my junior year, but for me the biggie was 1966.

After my freshman year of college, I scored a night shift job at a sheet metal plant. My hours were 6:30 pm to 5 am Monday through Thursday and 3:30 pm to midnight on Friday. There were only nine of us, a 31-year-old foreman, four welders, and four machine operators, three of us college kids. I worked a two-man shear with Al, who was missing an upper incisor and smoked a pack a night.

The 52-hour week meant 12-hours of overtime. I still lived with my parents and drove my mother's car to work, so that summer paid for the remaining three years of my undergraduate degree. It put me on "normal" time for the weekend, which meant I could have a social life...except that my midnight lunch break made it hard to call a girl for a date. It let me play golf almost every day, too, and that was the summer I broke 80 for the first time.

Swell, you say. So what?

Well, we played the radio most of the time, but all the metal around us interfered with reception so we could only pick up one local station, WSGW, which had a trasnmitter two miles away. At midnight, the DJ piled singles on the spindle. After they all played, he'd lift them, read the news headlines, and play that same stack again. And again. Between lunch break at midnight and punch out at five, we'd hear the same songs ten or twelve times. That was the year my first girlfriend dumped me and the year I fell in love for the first time, so those singles trigger a lot of emotional baggage.

Were they all great songs? Not by a long shot, but some were. The Rolling Stones released "Paint It, Black" and the Beatles gave us "Paperback Writer/Rain." The Hollies offered "Bus Stop," The Kinks "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," and Paul Revere and the Raiders were "Hungry." The Mamas and the Papas released "Monday, Monday." But the local DJ promoted home-grown groups selling their new single at the Battle of the Bands at Daniel's Den on Saturday night.

The Rationals at Daniel's Den, Saginaw's teen hot spot

Southern Michigan's music picked up the heavy metal thunder of the automotive plants, where Dad could make enough money to buy his kid an electric guitar and amplifier. Those kids formed bands and practiced in their garages, the DIY movement that became the flagship of garage rock, the grandfathers of Punk. It was democratic music, the kids stealing their licks and lines from the songs they heard on the radio, so simple ANYONE COULD DO IT. And if you got a fuzz-tone for your birthday, even better.

? & The Mysterians

That summer, "96 Tears" was huge. ? & The Mysterians, a Saginaw band, played Daniel's Den and the Blue Light constantly. Terry Knight and the Pack (Later to morph into Grand Funk Railroad) had a cover version of "Lady Jane," but it got pulled because the Rolling Stones hadn't released theirs yet. DJ and the Runaways had "Peter Rabbit," featuring the octave riff they lifted from "Wooly Bully." The Bossmen (Never big, but members went on to play with Lou Reed, Meat Loaf, Aerosmith, and Alice Cooper) released "Thanks to You." The Standells from LA had their biggest hit with "Dirty Water" and the 13th Floor Elevators gave us "You're Gonna Miss Me" with the full-bore reverb and an electric jug. Really.
The 13th Floor Elevators, Tom Hall on Jug...

Bob Seger and the Last Heard scored their first single, "East Side Story," recycling the riff from "Gloria" into flash-fiction noir. Seger wouldn't hit nationally for several more years, but he was probably the biggest act in Detroit behind the Motown groups (Where Stevie Wonder was also from Saginaw). He would have several more hits that don't appear on any of his greatest hits collections, too, maybe because they were on the tiny Lucky Eleven label, swallowed up by Cameo Parkway, which submerged in the late sixties.
Young Bob Seger

The Rationals from Flint had the first version I heard of Otis Redding's "Respect." Contrary to local myth, Glenn Frey was NOT a member of the band, but he did hail from Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb. 

The Syndicate of Sound's "Little Girl" came out then, too, along with the Music Machine's "Talk, Talk," and Love's take on "Little Red Book." Composers Bert Bacharach and Hal David preferred Manfred Mann's version of that song and loathed Love's take on it. The Shadows of Knight put out "Oh Yeah," the follow-up to their cover of "Gloria."

Those were the songs I heard while a two-man shear pounded out the rhythm for my summer. I bought my first guitar a few months later. When I look back at these songs, they evoke a very good year, and I can play pretty much all of them now without even thinking about it. The only surprise is that I've never used any of those songs as story titles. 

21 January 2014


                                            She stands in the cold water, facing
                                            south toward an invisible island. 
                                            In the Sunday morning quiet 
                                            the redwing blackbirds 
                                            shuffle nervously in a thicket 
                                            behind the beach. The loon 
                                            makes no sound at all in its 
                                            purposeful passage. 

                                            For sixty years and more 
                                            she has tested the waters 
                                            this way. Soon she will 
                                            take the plunge. Intrepid swimmer. 
                                            For her there is never 
                                            backing out. Never. She will dive 
                                            into the salt waves and there will be 
                                            friendliness and fellowship and 
                                            sisterhood, and a spot of

                                            Her landlocked husband, a creature of air 
                                            and dirt, leans against a boulder 
                                            and watches her. His silence 
                                            goes with her, and with the loon. 
                                            He guards towel, glasses, sandals, 
                                            His heart flutters in the thicket. 
                                            He rests quietly at the margin 
                                            of the liquid world, waiting. 
                                            When she rises, rebaptized, 
                                            from the sea, she will find 
                                            a harbor here. 

                                                                    James Lowell McPherson 
                                                                    "She Stands in the Cold Water"

       Last month I posted an article that largely praised the wonders of computerized research and our ability today to secure virtually any bit of information by merely clicking the correct keys on the nearest available laptop. At the time I wrote that post I intended to also address the flip side of the equation -- the things that we lose as we spiral down into that all-knowing ethernet vortex. But I have this problem (likely already evident) -- once I get started I can have a tendency to “write long.” The previous article sort of outgrew itself, leaving no practical room for a second chapter.  Also I came to realize that the rest of what I had to say was not only about losing the more personal side of the research process, but about losing people themselves.

       As noted in that previous article, ready access to the troves of information now available on the internet comes at a cost -- studies indicate a trend toward the reduction, and at times near disappearance, of short term and long term memory. As we come to rely on information assembled and cataloged on the internet more and more, our need to store facts in memory decreases, as does our ability to do so. What we potentially lose when this happens is the personal clothing that facts otherwise wear; the human side of the dry answer. 

       Dr. Kathryn Walbert, a professor at North Carolina University, has set the stage for the problem we face: 
Historians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can rely on extensive correspondence and regular diary entries for information about life in the past. But in today’s world, telephone, email, and web-based communication have largely replaced those valuable written records. Without oral history, much of the personal history of the late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries would be lost to future historians.
       Now we risk losing even that if personal memories, anecdotes and remembrances, upon which oral histories are based, are no longer being retained by our galloping brains, which have concluded this congeries of entangled memories and recollections need no longer be stored. 

       And what do we risk losing, here? How better to illustrate than with an anecdote. 

Jim and Phyllis
on the deck of the Mandalay
     Twenty-eight years ago my wife and I were on a Windjammer cruise -- 14 days, Antigua to Grenada, all under sail on a lovely ship that held 74 lucky passengers. The first night, at dinner, I glanced over at the couple sitting next to us and did a double take. They were in their sixties (to our 30s). He had shoulder length hair tied in a ponytail and sported a full beard; she had waist length hair. Both were dressed in tie-dye. Wow, I thought.  Relics of the '60s!  These are folks I need to meet.  

       That encounter, on the tall ship Mandalay, was the beginning to a 25 year friendship with two of the most interesting people we ever knew. 

       I referenced Jim McPherson and his wife Phyllis King in that previous article, specifically in reference to Jim's amazing facility with words.  Both Phyllis and Jim were poets, each an observer of all things past and present, and each a raconteur of the many adventures and lessons they had experienced in their varied lives. Over the years we spent many more vacations with Phyllis and Jim. And when they came down to Washington D.C. from their New York City apartment on Riverside Drive for visits we would spend memorable evenings in our backyard, or in our living room, drinking scotch and regaling each other with stories and observations. 

       One of the things I did not mention in that previous post was that Phyllis worked for twenty-five years at the telephone reference desk at the New York City library. I do not know how that desk is now run, but in the day -- in her day -- anyone could call in with a question and be assured that, for the number of minutes allotted each call by the library rules, the caller would have the undivided attention of a library employee who was both knowledgeable and willing to help them find the information that they sought. 

       All of this does tie back to our theme here. And here we go.

       In 1989 a short article by the well-known author and photographer Stanley P. Friedman appeared in The New York Times, The article was also published in the December 1990 edition of Reader's Digest, from which I quote. 
       I needed to do some research for an article I was writing, so I called New York City’s library information service. A woman whose mellifluous voice I’ve recognized for years came on. Her willingness to help has been boundless. “What do you want?” she asked.
       “I don’t think you’d have it. It’s sheet music. I need lyrics.”
       “It’s a ‘40s song: ‘Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year.’”
       “Oh, yes. That’s from a Deanna Durbin movie.”
       Pause. And then, would you believe it, she started singing it to me. Mind you, sing, not recite. The lyrics tripped along swiftly.
       They took me back to the London that I was writing about. September 1944. V-2s in blossom.... We met in the Strand Palace Hotel bar. We were both lonely and 19. We went to see Christmas Holiday with Deanna Durbin. She sang “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year.”
       End of flashback. Back to the Singing Librarian. At song’s end I said: “That was beautiful. You broke my heart. But you’ll have to say the words slowly so I can write them down.”
       She did, I wrote, then I asked, “What’s your name?”
       “We’re not allowed to give that information.”
       “That’s okay,” I said. “I know you.”
        So do I.  No rules here:  That was Phyllis King. 

       Google will give you the lyrics to that Deanna Durbin song, but there is so much more that it will not be able to do. Life has a poetry to it that is beyond Google’s keen.  And that is what we risk losing.

Thomas Point Lighthouse
       Phyllis died in 2007. Jim brought her ashes, encased in a brightly colored origami wrapper of corrugated paper, down to Washington, D.C., and with him we struck out on our 1982 Carver, motoring up the Chesapeake Bay to Thomas Point Light. As Amazing Grace played over our speakers we set the origami boat afloat in the Bay. It bobbed a few times, testing the water, and then pointed down, just as Phyllis always did, and dove for the depths. 

       One year later Jim died. His ashes are spread on the shore, looking out toward the waters of Thomas Point Light. There with the boulders. Watching. 

                                                When I am gone
                                                I will not haunt 
                                                with sad face 
                                                and mournful cries. 
                                                I will follow you like a child’s balloon 
                                                bobbing at your shoulder, 
                                                bumping your face 
                                                with my red or pink 
                                                or blue surface, 
                                                touching you, 
                                                saying I am there.

                                                              Phyllis King 
                                                              "Early Morning Balloon Poem"
                                                              November 10, 2005

27 May 2012

Oh Memory Where Hast Thou Gone

HEADLINE: Computer use plus exercise may reduce age-related memory loss 

A study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic shows that the combination of computer use and moderate physical exercise appears to decrease one's odds of suffering from age-related memory loss.
I wish the Mayo Clinic researchers had included me in their 926-person study. I would have told them their data were suspect because I’ve used a computer for many years, exercised for about a year, and my short term memory has neither improved nor worsened. I don’t fall into the 36 percent cognitively normal or the 18.3 percent that showed signs of MCI (mild cognitive impairment). 

As I have grown older, my short term memory has seemed to gradually disappear. Sometimes the loss has not served me, a reader and sometime writer, very well. In my last post on literature and genre, I forgot to include the URL of the essay to which I referred. My biggest sin in that post was not acknowledging my debt to Janice Law for her article on the subject in Criminal Brief on May 16, 2011. Also Deborah for her January 26, 2012 article in SleuthSayers.

Loss of my short term memory is annoying because it interferes with my reading. Memory is necessary in reading any type of narrative but it is especially important in reading fiction. E. M. Forster in his Aspects of the Novel says that fiction demands intelligence and memory. He goes on to say, “unless we remember we cannot understand.” The loss of short term memory can be disastrous in reading mysteries, for if it misses a clue and doesn’t recognize the red herring, the twist, or the surprises enjoyment of the story is also lost.

Thinking about memory and reading, I did what I always do, googled and binged the words “memory” and “reading” to get more information on the relation between them. I learned that two types of memories are involved in reading, and I suppose writing also, short term and working.

A definition: “Working memory refers to the processes that are used to temporarily store, organize and manipulate information. Short-term memory, on the other hand, refers only to the temporary storage of information in memory.” 
I tried wrapping my mind around that definition and concluded that it is a difference that is no difference. It certainly doesn’t help me with the problem of sometimes being unable to remember what I read on page 3 that now connects to what I’m reading on page 10. In my reading experience, I find that I not only must recall information stored in my memory, but also manipulate and organize that information if I’m to participate wholly in the story.

Like a writer whose creative juices have dried up, a reader whose short term memory has deserted him may slip into deep depression if he doesn’t do something to compensate. To compensate, when I’m reading pbooks, I put a pencil check mark near a word, sentence, or metaphor that I think I’ll need to remember later, and then mark the page with a paper clip or post-it. The system works reasonably well for me. Reading ebooks, on the other hand, I’m struggling to find a way to mark what I think I should remember.

The narrator in Stephen King’s short story “The Things They Left Behind” says “Memory always needs a marker....” I suppose it does. My problem is the marker has disappeared taking my short term memory with it.