“You know him, but you probably don’t remember his mom, she was an…” This is how stories begin in my parent’s home. I do not. It has been decades since her son and I shared a playground in middle school.
The children we once knew have grown, moved, married, and are contemplating children. Some parents, like mine, remain in old circles and wonder at our forgetfulness.
The loss is not intentional. Rather too great is the world, too many are the people. We do not mean to surrender these memories of childhood, they are forced from us by the onslaught of days. To manage we devote our meager resources to our current locations, to our new homes. On the East Coast for a few days of stories and family, I learn of another method, long practiced, for defeating the limits of memory.
My father’s parents drive me south to Philadelphia. We have scant trips like this together and many things to share, tales of those gone and those unable to join us. We alternate between the two as the miles pass. Sometimes we speak of our future desires, my own hopes to visit Scotland this fall among them.
“It’s really beautiful out at the north edge of Scotland,” says my grandfather, “I forget the name of the town, I’d have to look at my notes. Anyway, you ride along…”
In an astonishing moment an entire world previously unknown appears to me, revealed after decades. The same decades that have hidden my childhood companions suddenly contain copious detail, personal history, the travel of those with no limits on time.
“Notes?” I ask, thinking of my poor scribbled collection of memories from earlier travels, from years abroad.
“From everywhere we’ve ever been,” he says.
“Every night when we get back to the hotel,” adds my grandmother, “he writes while I read my book.” With that my own urge to organize and record no longer seems so strange. The first image I see is of our cruise in two thousand six, me writing in a lounge high on the ship late in the evenings, others having retired to their cabins. I imagine him sitting at a table, looking out over the Mediterranean, writing.
A day later I have copies of his notes from three weeks spent in Scotland in nineteen ninety four and can add format and handwriting to my imagined evenings. The notes are in a kind of short hand, and the hours driving together lend me the sound of his voice as I read them, which I do for much of my plane flight home.
9/10 Saturday Stayed — Toured Hadrian’s Wall — Housesteads Roman Ft. (high on ridge, impressive remains & views, walked wall — really windy)
Almost twenty years ago. As with so many written things I picture a book of these travel diaries, with appendixes that list the miles traveled per day, that list the names of each hotel, as they are recorded on the paper in front of me. I see a book of things forgotten and yet not lost.
We have a finite memory. Most things slide in and out. Relationships, good times with old friends, one-time travels to distant lands, even these drift from our fingertips though we do not mean to let them. What then of the details of Japan, of Shanghai, of our travels, houses, kitten? On the bus home from the airport I think of this site, of my attempts to record time and place, and vow to continue. Looking down again at his notes as I sit in the fog of San Francisco I am amazed at the details so long forgotten and so quickly returned to hand.