Scribbling Memories and Preserving Through Writing

Kayla Sweeney, Writing Consultant

She has not forgotten my face or name. The corners of her mouth crease the same smile when I enter the room, brown wells becoming warm half-crescents over her nose. I still get a familiar, tight embrace—she hugs just like my mom does—and questions about the small and big details of my life. We sit together in her square, yellow room. She in her recliner by the window. It overlooks the nursing home garden, the purple flowers overlaying the corners of the frame. I sit on her twin bed, the scent of childhood raising from her quilted blanket. To me, it is a smell of cornbread in an iron skillet, her indoor heater, and summer grass. I hold her wrinkled hand and we talk.

She sometimes asks me the same questions three, maybe five times. I answer each time like it is the first, because for her it is.

She is still the same Granny, but knots form in me when I think of the years to come.

Years to come.
I think and dream about them when I am small and walk with my hand in hers. We walk down a gravel road and the brush of overgrown weeds hangs over the jagged edges. Trees canopy the sky. Crickets fill the space around us with their song.

Can you tell it again?

And she does. Maybe three, maybe five times, in our short walk. It is the story of Little Orphan Annie. We sit on the porch of an abandoned house at the end of the street. She whispers and the goblins will get you if you don’t watch out. I giggle at my favorite part of the poem.

She whispers other poems and sings songs, ones embedded in her mind, and when I begin to scrawl my own, she puts me on the phone with her preacher so he can hear them.

I didn’t think too much about it then. But now, I think of poetry as a cord between us. My love for it grew more in her forest-enclosed home.

And now, when my family and I go to the church service at her nursing home, her voice belts out with the rest of the crowd. All voices seem to know the songs. Those that embody the voices have walked longer paths than I can stretch or measure. The same voices have gasped at the sight of war, called to children to come for dinner, spoken with eloquence to a class of students—have felt what I can’t pen. Some, I know, can’t remember the face of father, mother, sister, brother. But hymns, songs, words hide somewhere in them, beyond dementia and nursing home walls.

Words paint memory, hiding it more deeply in us and helping us understand it better. Senses attach us to scenes and pictures of the past. Smell is said to be the strongest one.
But words cross the zones between senses, so we can read the smell of Tennessee taffy in humid summer, or write color, or pen ear-piercing screams in the dark.
And so, sometimes we write not as entertainers, magicians mixing the right turn of phrases to tickle ears; sometimes, we do not write to inform the masses of truths or controversy.

We sometimes write to remember. To cling to that which runs through our mind and in our skin, but might not always be there. To pass on what is dear. We read, write, and declare to preserve.

36 or 37 filled journals sit in a closet in my hometown. They are filled with prayers, and poems, and rants about middle school friendships and college crushes. They are like therapy, or my google-translate for emotions, letting me empty all of the unprocessed mess from my brain, and transforming it into a jumbled representation of. . .something. That which is messy, but easier to understand than before.

But I hope these stacks of scribbles and angst to be more than that. To one day, hold a child in my lap and tell her stories with an old, torn journal, or for that same child to bring one to me when I am graying and my own memory is fading. To look at the scribbles and even for a brief moment, to remember what was.

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