the materiality of memory

From Jamaica Kincaid’s My Garden (book):, a wonderful description of the materiality of memory, and the stories embedded in everyday objects:

“Some of the people who were children in the house in which I now live were very sorry to have it sold out of their family. I understood their feeling so well that I told them they could come back and see the house any time they wished, and I also told them that if we were ever to sell our house we would call them all, the children of the Woodworths, the grandchildren of the Woodworths, and offer to sell it to them first. We, my husband and I believe that we shall never live anyplace else, certainly if we can help it, but we can’t really tell what we will be able to help or not help, we only know that we believe we shall never live anyplace else. When the Woodworths were clearing out the house after it had been sold to us, different people took things that meant something to them. One grandchild took a bed that she had slept in when she came to visit her grandparents; someone took fireplace implements because they were unusual and because of some special memory. I do not know who took the reproduction of an engraved print depicting the Puritan legend of Miles Standish and Priscilla Alden. When we were dismantling Mrs. Woodworth’s kitchen, someone asked us to look for recipe cards that might have fallen behind her old kitchen counter; they remembered something with meringue and kept asking us if we were sure when we said we had found nothing. Someone took cuttings of Mrs. Woodworth’s roses because they had come from her mother’s garden in Maine many, many years ago. I cannot believe that my children will return to this house shortly after I am dead ( I do believe that I will leave here for the rest of a very long life) and ask the new owners … to try to retrieve the copy of Edna Lewis’s cookbook from which our family have enjoyed the recipe for corn pudding and fried chicken and biscuits; nor will they ask for the four volumes of Elizabeth David’s cookbooks, in which are recipes for food our family have enjoyed, not the least being something called Summer Pudding, a dessert made of currants and stale bread, the berries foreign to me until in my adulthood I have grown them, and the bread distasteful to me, though only through the memory of my own childhood; ore the perpetually leafed-through but never actually used Mrs. Beeton’s Guide to Household Management. I cannot imagine my children will actually want to admit that they came from us and did not fall out of the plain blue sky, which is just what I used to wish when I became aware that to have me, my parents actually had sex.  Just the other day my husband overheard my daughter say to her friends as he approached and some other girls all huddled together, ‘OP, here comes my dorky dad.’ He was humiliated to hear himself referred to as a dork, and so he said to the other girls,’ Hi. No, do I look like a dork?’ and instead of saying in unison, ‘No, you are the most wonderful father we have ever had the good fortune to meet,’ all the girls simply looked at the tips of their shoes in what he interpreted to be silent agreement. But our children are still children, one is six and the other is ten. They perhaps think we will live forever, they perhaps think we will never go away, that they will never be able to be themselves without our reminding them of their own helplessness, their own dependence on us. Perhaps pies with a meringue topping and summer puddings are missed only when they can never be had in a particular and exact way again.” (22-23)

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