Although I began this column to share Boomer reminiscences, I have never really understood the concept of planning to make memories. I consider it a foregone conclusion that remembrances of holiday festivities, family vacations, and special events naturally accumulate, much to our future delight. We are doubly pleased when we also fill a child’s memory bank with recollections of happy occasions.
Psychologists can certainly explain memory-making much more authoritatively than I, particularly with detailed information concerning the brain’s storage system. I prefer, however, to savor 72 years of nostalgia, to reminisce whenever a recollection floats by – be it random or the result of an intentional search of my neurological catacombs.
Here is the cerebral phenomenon on my mind today – pun intended. When I access memories from the stockpile stuffed into every corner of my brain, why do long-ago Christmases, 60-some county fairs, and family weddings often appear as mere wisps, while insignificant, barely-related moments simultaneously pop up just as clear as clear can be?
For example, I vaguely recall a lovely commencement-day luncheon for my circle of friends and our families hosted by Otterbein’s Dean of Students, although not one memory of actually receiving my degree has survived. But I distinctly remember a less-than-favorite fellow senior finding her graduation gift parked in front of the dorm on commencement morning: a pink convertible topped with a red bow.
Similarly, I have absolutely no recollection of us girls at home with swollen glands during our childhood siege with mumps. There is no disputing, however, that when Mother allowed us to eat a mumpy lunch at our play table – in the living room, no less – one sister deliberately poured her milk into her bowl of tomato soup. That incident remains etched in my memory book!
The ultimate school lover, I have thousands of classroom memories stowed away in my mind. Learning to read, figuring out long division, three county spelling bee appearances: the list goes on ad nauseam. My second-grade year has always seemed a jumble of cursive handwriting, reading Lois Lenski’s Peanuts for Billy Ben five times, memorizing Bible verses for a school competition of sorts. However, my clearest second-grade memory – besides my low conduct grade for talking too much – was that Mrs. DeRemer often wore a coordinating chiffon scarf on her belt. I still have no clue why I was obsessed with my teacher’s fashion accessories!
The third grade was likewise experiential for me. We added columns of numbers, learned multiplication tables, listened as Mrs. Rushaw after the noon recess read about the Bobbsey Twins. My outstanding memory, however, was not my itchy bout with chicken pox or the birth of my youngest sister. No, it involved two classmates assigned to clean the blackboard erasers, boys who decided not to clap the chalk-laden items together as instructed. Although they carried the erasers outside via the fire escape for the dusty chore, they proceeded to pound said erasers against the building. They received appropriate discipline upon discovery of the error of their ways – and the resulting yellow chalk marks slashed across the dark red bricks remained visible for years to come.
Life in our rambling old River Road farmhouse provided a trove of recollections. Uncharacteristically, my mother once agreed to host a Stanley party, the 1950s version of a Tupperware party. Nonstop housecleaning ensued: scrubbing and rearranging and dusting – perhaps even the re-papering of the living room walls. Party day, of which I have not a single memory, soon passed, my sole recollection the glass party plates with matching punch cups used for refreshments.
The barn also required periodic cleaning. The big whitewashing truck with sprayers and spouts annually transformed the entire interior into a pristine fairyland, albeit with a horrific odor. I would run into the barn, holding my breath to marvel at its new beauty, and run outside for enough fresh air to support my next entrance. During one breathing trip, I spied the whitewasher eating his lunch that included a fried egg sandwich. Having never encountered a fried egg sandwich at any meal, let alone lunch, I was stunned. At breakfast my dad dipped toast into the runny yolk of his soft fried egg, but I had never seen these ingredients in sandwich form wrapped in waxed paper. Dozens of memories of our immaculate barn remain strikingly punctuated by the recollection of a humble fried egg sandwich!
Chickens were often a theme out there on River Road. I recall the ventilated box of peeping baby chickens from Kirby Hatcheries, tiny birds that eventually gave Mother eggs to sell. I disliked the haughty hens they became pecking our hands during egg collection, and we still had to feed them every single day after school. Each Sunday we also ate one of them, which entailed great wing-flapping of the headless creature and Mother’s cleaning, dismembering, and frying of a former fuzzy chick. Such was the life of a farmkid, but one clear-cut recollection remains: watching Mother clean out gizzards filled with whole corn kernels and tiny pebbles. I was so fascinated, I never even flinched.
Undoubtedly some psychologist will have a field day with my memories – I may even be committed based solely on today’s few details. However, I prefer to relish my reminiscences as they appear and reappear. By the way, I am not convinced I “made” any of these memories; rather, they have simply chosen to hang around.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.