Monday, December 9, 2013


What do you remember?

And.... what do the things around you remember?

Does that book remember what it used to be?
Does the rain remember past experiences?
Does your chess board remember the fun you had together yesterday?

Such are the wonderings and musings in Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden and illustrated by Renata Liwska.

On her blog, Laden tells the story of how her book began with a walk, a feather and a thought:
I was walking on our neighborhood beach on Lummi Island in the San Juan islands in Washington state. It was June 15th in 2009. I spied a beautiful feather on the beach and picked it up. I had been saving feathers for years and had a vase where I kept them- a bouquet of feathers instead of flowers. I held that feather- it had belonged to a bald eagle, and I thought about the native American legend that eagle feathers are to be left where they are found so that they can return to the heavens, and the thought crossed my mind, “does a feather remember it once was a bird?” Does that feather “fly” back to heaven like the bird it once was?

To read the complete blog post click here.

Like Nina, the notion of things around me remembering their past experiences or their origins intrigues me.

I am looking at objects in my home differently.  I am looking at items around me in the world with curiosity?
What do they remember and know?

Does my black Moleskine journal remember that it was once  blank and crisp and new?

Does my couch remember that it was once a Natuzzi cow in grazing on a hillside in Italy?

Does the lavender bush in my front yard remember the open field  in which it once stood blowing in the breeze with its sisters?

Do my many bracelets remember the stores and the countries in which they resided first? Do they remember floating as liquid in a silver factory, and later being refined in the fire?

Memory is a slippery character.

We remember an event or experience, a smell or a feeling,  a flash, an inkling--but what we remember may not be what actually happened.

We may have the facts mixed up.  At the time we may have seen slant or heard half.  We may have forgotten the "real" over time. We may have recreated what we would have liked to have happened.

If we tell our recreated story often enough-- it becomes our memory, whether it is accurate enough.

So then I wonder--if things remember, when they remember--- do they remember as fallibly as we do?

Do the buttons in my drawer remember  to which jackets they used to be attached?
Do they remember the tortoise shell from which they were carved?

In The Memory String by Eve Bunting, buttons on  Laura's heirloom memory string remind her of  important moments with her deceased mother's family. She fingers her buttons like a rosary and loudly tells each event to her cat . With the help of her stepmother and a lost button, however, she realizes that she will always remember the past ---but that she can also add  new buttons--and memories- to her string.

Do the buttons remember?

One of the tragic things that happens as we get older is our "string" of memories gets full-- we begin to lose important images and narratives. Sometimes we forget the most recent.  Sometimes the memories farthest back disappear.

Which object, which sound, which smell will bring back our lost memories?

In Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge , a classic picture book by Mem Fox,  Wilfred lives near a retirement home and befriends many of the residents.  Upon  overhearing that Miss Nancy has "lost her memory",  he sets out to help her find it, even though he is not so sure what a memory is.

As he gathers more information from family and neighbors, he thoughtfully collects objects  for Miss Nancy that he hopes  are "memory"-- objects of his own memories that fit his gathered definitions. As he presents his gifts one-by- one, Miss Nancy does remember  a bit of her own missing memories.

What object remembers for us?

Jeanne Mare Beaumont stands in her kitchen surrounded by things that hold her memories and tell her life. She muses on the power these things hold in When I Am in the Kitchen.
...In my kitchen I wield my great aunt's sturdy black-handled soup ladle and spatula, and when I pull out the drawer, like one in a morgue, I visit the silverware of my husband's grandparents...
Oh the past is too much with me in the kitchen, where I open the vintage metal recipe box, robin's egg blue in its interior, to uncover the card for Waffles, writ in my father's handreaching out from the grave to guide me
Read  Beaumont's complete poem here.

Nicole Cooley, further ponders this question in her poem  Compendium of Lost Objects.

Not the butterfly wind, the semiprecious stones,
           the shard of the mirror,  
not the cabinet of curiosities built with secret drawers
          to reveal and conceal its contents,
but the batture, the rope swing, the rusted barge
          sunk at the water’s edge...

Not any of this but a cot at the Superdome sunk in a dumpster
 and lace valances from a Lakeview kitchen where water           
rose six feet high inside... 

Read Nina Cooley's complete poem here.

What objects hold our life and our memories?
Which things remember our lives?

To read a previous related post  Collecting  Memories and Moments click here.

Today's Deeper Writing Possiblities

Consider objects in your house or in a particular room in your home. 
What memories do these objects bring to mind?  What past experiences and events are connected to and implied by these objects in your life?

What might these objects remember of their own existence? 

Write a poem composed of a series of questions reflecting on the memories held in objects.
Write an essay exploring the nature of memories brought forth by specific things.


  1. What a deep and beautiful post! Thank you for highlighting our new book, "Once Upon A Memory." It makes me so happy to see that it has inspired this.

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Nina. And thank you for such a beautiful book. It will having me thinking about the world around me for a long time.