The Power of a Memory

I grew up in San Diego, California, on a cul-de-sac in an older part of the city. Suburban houses rim the finger canyons throughout this Navy town. Ours was one of thousands, but we kids were a lucky few, growing up in a time that wasn’t nearly as jaded as the world, and parents, must be today.

My brother and sister and I walked to school – a mere ten minute jaunt – and our dog ran loose in the neighborhood. Nobody complained. It was a different time, almost a galaxy away. No computers, no video games. “Get outside and blow the stink off you!” my mother would say, and shoo us out into the sun.

In the summer, we built forts and played in the canyon with the neighborhood kids. Sweet peas grew wild in our playground. We’d pick them by the armloads and cart them homeward. My mother’s life was hectic then, and I think a good part of the motivation to pluck the gorgeous buds week after week was to see her smile over the blooms, breathe in that pungent sweetness.

We always knew when to come up for dinner, because the doves would begin to coo at four o’clock every day. It was a signal: Pick as many sweet peas as you can carry, and climb the hill. It was a luxury for my mother to have fresh flowers in the house, and we were proud to be the purveyors of happiness, if only for the weeks they were alive.

Mom is 82 now and we haven’t been near a canyon for a good twenty years, but no matter. In a flash, I can be right back in our old family room. I can see the couch and the windows overlooking the fruit-tree-lined terraces that descend into the small ravine below. That’s where I first learned the impact of a gift, as well as the present that is a garden. And seeing it in my mind over and over again, I’ve learned the power of a memory.

I can go back whenever I wish, and I do. And every time I return to my life – this life, this world – I use the innocence of who I was and write those joyous moments into the people I create. My characters all have a piece of me, in more ways than one.

I’m not convinced we must always “write what we know.” I believe it’s closer to the truth to “write what you want to know.” I think as authors, we can pen whatever we want, as long as we’re able to bring the characters in our chosen stories alive by building into each of them the feelings and memories we hold inside. It’s cathartic, it’s creative.

I believe that’s much of the reason why I write: The hope that someone else will smell the sweet peas, and feel the pinch of nostalgia over a childhood long gone.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

30 Responses to The Power of a Memory

  1. Molly Greene August 2, 2011 at 1:02 am #

    Thank you Tess! Hope to someday write as wonderful a blog as yours.

  2. Jeff Greene August 2, 2011 at 1:32 am #

    I remember those times, but mine was in the deep south with honey suckles and grand-mom. Beautifully written piece.

    • Molly Greene August 2, 2011 at 2:05 am #

      Jeff, I hope to read about it all someday soon!

  3. Cindy O. Herman August 2, 2011 at 3:11 am #

    Ah, Molly, how sweet. I don’t even know what sweet peas smell like, but I feel like I can smell ’em! One of the other commenters used the word elegant to describe your writing, and I must agree. Elegant and evocative. And just plain pleasant!

    • Molly Greene August 2, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

      You MUST grow sweet peas next spring, my sister. They like cool weather, so start them early. Thank you so much for your lovely comment!

  4. Tess Hardwick August 2, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    This is an absolutely beautiful post. Thanks for sharing it with us. Sweet pea blossoms and moms. Nothing better.

  5. Jeffrey Hollar August 2, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    It seems sometimes so easy and yet so very difficult to recapture the simple joys and smiles of our youth. You have done so with quiet elegance in this post.

    • Molly Greene August 2, 2011 at 2:33 am #

      Thank you so much, Jeffrey!

  6. Galit Breen August 2, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Molly? This is pure gorgeous. Pure.

    The memories, the gifts, the sweet peas, the writing lesson- all woven seamlessly.


    • Molly Greene August 2, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

      Galit, your comment is so beautiful I am nearly overwhelmed. Thank you so much!

  7. Jacqui Murray August 2, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    What a lovely post. My daughter lives in San Diego–not like your life, but it is a quieter big city than most. Nice memories.

    • Molly Greene August 2, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

      Jacqui, thanks so much for your wonderful comment!

  8. Paula S. Jordan August 4, 2011 at 2:56 am #

    What a gift to have so rich and true a memory, and to be able to share it so vividly with the rest of us. Thank you.

  9. Paula S. Jordan August 4, 2011 at 2:59 am #

    I’m now following you, by the way!

    • Molly Greene August 4, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

      Paula thanks so much for visiting and your lovely comments, welcome!

  10. Kellie August 5, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    Write what you know…Yes, always a good place to start, but I agree about practicing where we WANT to be, not just where we’ve been. It’s like dressing for the job you want – and that kind of behavior has definitely helped push me forward, both in scope and content. Keep the imagination muscle exercised!

    Found you thru our recent twitter connection – glad we linked up! Count me in as one of your new subscribers – writers unite!

    • Molly Greene August 6, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

      Kellie, thanks so much for visiting and your wonderful comments – welcome!

  11. Amberr Meadows August 6, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    The beauty of being a writer is that we can take our memories and tweak them any way we want and never be called a liar.

    • Molly Greene August 6, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

      Yes, one of my favorite things – as as writer, I can embellish :-O

  12. Phantomimic August 22, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    This is lovely Molly, I also have many such memories stored in my head, and I like that: write what you want to know. Very true! : ^ )

  13. Pamela Beason September 18, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    Eloquently put, Molly. I couldn’t live a day without reading and writing fiction because it takes me places I want to go, lets me triumph over evil, and just generally makes the real world a more liveable place. I’m so grateful to both the fiction writers who write what they know, and those who write what they want to know.

  14. S.D. Hirsch February 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    That was incredibly well written.

    I’m a writer but it still amazes me how some people can remember such things and in such detail. I suppose, more than that even, it amazes me the beautify in the details, primarily because I have such a hard time finding beauty in my own. That isn’t meant to sound depressing, just a statement of fact. 😉

    In any case, what you wrote was poignant and well said.

    On the point of “writing what you know”. It’s funny because I’ve been thinking in the vein lately, and I recalled that I’d seen both that suggestion and another; “Write about what you do not know”. I know, sounds silly, but I understood what the guy meant, but even still I couldn’t agree. I agree with you– as long as we bring the characters alive. It’s then that we’ve succeeded.

    I’ve got some dark characters though, not sure what that’s saying about me. lol

    • Molly Greene February 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

      Such a wonderful comment! You’re a deep thinker, and I can tell you’ll make sense of it all. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  15. Emma February 19, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    That’s a beautiful childhood memory. My childhood likewise was spent outdoors in the summer with other kids of the neighbourhood. We didn’t watch tv; we played “manhunt”, “rounders” and “tip the can”, (all Irish games more than likely).

  16. March 7, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    I remember those days gone by too and whish my kids could experience the freedom we had, just once.

    • Molly Greene March 7, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

      Isn’t it true? Thanks so much for your read and comment, Bridget

  17. Jen Pearlman March 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    Great post Molly! I too was reminiscing lately about having a childhood where I could roam the woods for what seemed like hours before I ventured home. Kids have a lot of advantages today but they don’t have the innocence and freedom I felt like we had. Wonderful to hear about the wild sweet peas! I especially loved the line in your blog about writing, “we write what we want to know.” I agree. Writing is as much about discovery as anything else. Thanks for sharing your memory!

    • Molly Greene March 21, 2012 at 6:57 am #

      Jen, we were very, very lucky.

  18. J.D. Begin April 23, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Wonderful post and beautifully written!

    • Molly Greene April 23, 2012 at 9:22 am #

      Thank you so much, JD!