Thursday, March 5, 2009

What is not memoirs

It is obvious that I shall write about much that I remember.  What do I mean, not writing memoirs?  I mean that I want to try to write about what someone of my age, raised where I was, in what my memories will reveal as a lower-middle-income family, actually remembers.  I do not, however, want to write yet another somewhat phony encapsulation of a Depression-era childhood and a post-War adolescence.  I do not want to try to define what is Me.  I do not presume to being able to isolate what is universal in my experience: universal to all girls, universal to all WASPs, shared by all of my relatives.  That is, I don't want to typify.  I do not want to distinguish what happened to be important (e.g., Pearl Harbor day) from what certainly wasn't.  I only want to discover whether setting down what I do recall that I quite surely do remember, without resorting to anecdotes or 'remembering' what is actually a scenario based on a snapshot, will cumulatively make sense.  Without contrived continuity.
In that respect, I am trying to be honest.  I do not remember everything, and on any given day I do not think of what I do remember.  In many cases, I truly do not know why something has been retained, and I do not wholeheartedly agree that it might be psychologically significant.  That is why these little essays may not be very interesting.
For example:
When I was two and three years old we rented a house that was only two doors down the street from my grandparents.  I often went barefoot, since that street already had sidewalks, and I could go alone back and forth between the houses (not that I was allowed to stay out for very long).  What I remember is the texture of those sidewalks on the soles of my feet and, after a passing shower, the brief kind that comes in off the sea and often makes a rainbow, a sunshiny shower, the unique odor of the moistened warm sidewalks.  Yes, we lived within a 30-minute drive from the Pacific.  Our sidewalks' concrete had been made, I am sure, of sea sand and perhaps sea water, though that seems less practical. But I only thought of that explanation much later; the experience of Pismo Beach was overpowered by the ocean itself, and by the odors of its seaweed, for example.  I was conscious of larger forces, of the noise, of the waves, of the tide, when we went there.  Walking and digging under the pier, there was a fishiness (I suppose a clamminess).  I thought about these sidewalks throughout my childhood whenever we moved to or visited some other sidewalks, whether in the same town or another.  I know of no others with that sea-salt odor, slight, only really noticeable when they were moistened on a sunny day, and with that distinctive sandy smoothness under bare feet.
This may be a convenient place to record that it was only when the WPA was instituted that the street was paved, and on our street when we moved to the other end of town we got even curbs and gutters only in the late 1930s.