Memory map exercise

Here is an exercise to dig down deep.

Choose a picture of a place where you spent a lot of time as a child. Perhaps this was your old family home that you moved from. Or a family friend’s house. Or your elementary school playground. It is important that this be a place that you have a lot of memories about.

Make a color copy of the picture and paste it into your journal. Don’t use an original picture or you won’t feel free to work with it like you need to.
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You might be able to find a picture online of this place if you no longer have a photograph (you moved, for instance). Use Google image search and put in the address in question. You might be surprised what you can find, as real estate agents often take many pictures and leave them up even after the house has sold.

Write a map grid around the edges – evenly space letters on one side and numbers on the other side.
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Use this grid to refer to elements in the picture. What happened in each place? What does that remind you of? You can go as deep as you want, and as off subject as you want. Nobody has to see this. Keep writing about what happened in that one area until you wind down. Move on to another area. Repeat. You can use different colors to help keep track of your wanderings – first thoughts, tangents off of that, for instance.

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You don’t have to start at the top and work your way down. You can write about whatever catches your fancy first and go from there.

Many different things will come up while you do this – memories that you’d long forgotten. This is a time to cherish the beautiful ones and heal the hard ones. You are older now, and stronger, and better able to work with them. Events are tricky things when we are younger – they might be too heavy for us to carry. When we get older, we have more tools at our disposal. This is a special time that you have to work on them, a second chance.

At the end, thank yourself for giving yourself permission to do this work.

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Road Trip!

I was thinking about why I like to go on road trips – and particularly why I like to get road trip food.

When I was younger – say between the ages of five to ten, my parents would take us on trips to our grandparents. They lived about three hours south of us. Sometimes we would drive all the way to them, and sometimes we would go halfway and they would meet us, with one child or the other going back with the grandparents for a week, then to be traded out for the other child the next week. Every summer we got to spend a whole week, by ourselves, with our grandparents. Sometimes the whole family would visit, but the best trips were when I’d get my grandparents all to myself.

Visits there were magical. There would be a present under my pillow every morning. We’d sleep with the windows open (no central air there!) and listen to the mournful sounds of the trains in the distance. I could wander wherever I wanted in that new country that was their neighborhood, and I could do anything I wanted. I got whatever I asked for and more. Going there was a child’s fantasy.

While I enjoyed being there, the part that I seem to have kept with me the most is the road trip itself, and getting the road trip food. Why? It is still a fun thing even today.

I think part of it was because going on road trips was the longest my family would spend together. Going on those trips meant that nobody could storm away to their private oasis – the kitchen, their own bedroom, or lost inside their headphones, listening to music (this applied to my brother and my father). We weren’t close by any stretch, but being in the car for hours meant we had to at least try to get along. Closeness isn’t an automatic – it has to be worked on. You can’t work on it if you are all doing your own thing.

Going to the convenience store meant that this was a road trip – an adventure out of town. Going to the store meant that there was no doubt about it, something good was going to happen. This was not a usual trip. I think part of what I loved was that, unlike any other time, I was allowed to get whatever I wanted. This made going to that store much like being at my grandparent’s house – my opinion mattered for once.

I usually bought Willy Wonka candy – Everlasting Gobstoppers, Bottlecaps. Sometimes I’d get Nerds. I’d usually very colorful high-sugar items, and not chips or sodas. These days the default favorite snack for road trips is a Yoo-Hoo drink and Andy Capp’s Hot Fries. Sometimes I’ll add something in from the “chocolate food group” – maybe a Heath bar, in part for texture. This is what I would get at the beginning of the trip. Usually later on I’ll get some fruit drink (with no HFCS if possible) and some green tea – and sometimes I’ll mix them together.

Being reminded of who you are.

I once had to remind my Mom of how strong she was.

I’m not sure what was going on – either Dad had separated from her, moving in with his 80 year old Mom, or she had cancer. It all blurred together that year, one bad thing fading into another.

She was alone, and frightened. She had me, but I was 24, still living at home. I was in college, working part time. It wasn’t enough to support us, and she didn’t want me to quit college. She never got to go and it was important to her that I finish. Dad was sending some money, but it wasn’t enough. She had to get a job.

She set her sights low. She thought about going to work in a gas station. It was simple – no experience necessary. I didn’t like the idea because it would be dangerous – there was a risk of her being robbed. I also knew that she could do better. She’d managed a call center, many years before, when I was in kindergarten.

She’d forgotten about that – and she’d forgotten about even earlier than that.

When she first came to America, she came to stay with a pen pal. The pen pal wasn’t much of a pal – the situation got worse very fast, and she couldn’t stay with her. Perhaps there had been a misunderstanding of what was expected. Perhaps the person was just a jerk.

But Mom didn’t go back home to England. She stayed here, found a job, found an apartment. She took care of herself and then met the person she was to marry.

And she did it all by herself.

She’d forgotten how strong she was, way back then, in her 20s. Surely she was even stronger now in her 50s. She could handle it. She’d done so much more since then – run a house by herself for one. My Dad wasn’t interested in cooking or cleaning or repairs or yardwork. She’d been the president of the PTA. She ran my Girl Scout troop after the leader quit at the first meeting. She was always filling in where others dropped the ball and doing a great job. She had no training and no experience, but she knew when something had to be done that someone had to do it, so she did.

I take after her a lot, now that I think about it.

We forget ourselves. We forget how strong we are. So when something unexpected and hard comes up, we think it is the first time we’ve climbed that mountain. We’ve climbed Everest. It was years ago, but we climbed it – when we handled our parent’s estate, or stood up to a bully, or left an abusive boyfriend or husband, or gotten a PhD, or any number of things. Life is full of mountains. It is just that when we get into the long flat stretches that we forget.

Remember your mountains, and they will help you get over this one.

Memory postcard – me and my grandmother

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This is a “postcard” of me and my grandmother. She is the only grandmother that I knew. She was my father’s mother, and her name was Mary Frances. I called her Mama. My mother’s mother died before I was born.

My aunt sent me this picture recently. I’d never seen it, but I knew when it was taken. There is another picture of me from that same day, wearing those same clothes. It, however, has all of me and not just half. I’m not sure where that picture is anymore. Probably in a box in a closet. I’d had this picture sitting out for a while. It needed to be put in a frame of some sort. It needed something.

Here’s a closer picture of the photo that started it all.

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The back of the picture says “Betsy and me at the Holiday Inn, Chattanooga”. It is written in blue ballpoint pen in my grandmother’s handwriting. The printing on the side of the picture says “Jun 71”, so I was two years old. I’d been swimming – my hair is wet. I was cold, and my grandmother has put her ever-present white sweater on me to keep me warm. Yes, my hair is wet, and I’m not wearing a swimsuit. So that means I was changed into normal clothes and nobody dried my hair. My grandmother has her handbag nearby. This is big and stiff and white, like all of her purses. The one I remember the most was a white wicker contraption. It was fascinating.

I spent most of yesterday sorting my stamp collection and my collection of fortunes from fortune cookies. I have a slightly disturbing amount of both. Fortunately they are tiny paper things, so having a lot of them doesn’t take up a lot of space. I pulled out ones I liked as I was sorting, with no particular idea what I was going to do with them. At night I knew – put some of them together with this picture. It is like a postcard of memories.

The fortunes all have meanings for me. They are like pithy snapshots all to themselves.

Here’s a closer picture of the first three.

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“Travelling to the south will bring you unexpected happiness.”
There were two of these fortunes in the collection, and I’m amused by how specific they are. The south – not the north, not just traveling, but the south. I found it interesting, so I pulled them aside. Now I know why. I went south to visit my grandparents every summer for two weeks while I was growing up. We’d drive down as a family to meet up with my grandparents in Gadsden, Alabama and go to Noccalula Falls. It was halfway. Then my parents would drive back home, and my grandparents would drive the rest of the way to Birmingham with me in the car. Two weeks later they would reverse the procedure to return me.

Was it unexpected happiness? It was certainly different from the norm. My grandparents slept in separate rooms. My grandmother had two single beds in her room. I’d sleep in the one closest to the wall. The blankets were white with pom poms on them. The “Birmingham fairy” would visit and there would be a present under my pillow. Was it every night? Or just the first night? I don’t remember. No teeth had to fall out to get a present. It was just for being there. I remember being stunned how it happened. I’d see something I liked at a store we would visit and it would show up under my pillow the next morning. It was magic. I never saw my grandmother buy anything that I later got under my pillow. She was part elf, I think. She taught me how to palm money, but that is another story.

At night she would give me chocolate milk to drink, and in the morning she would put sugar in my orange juice. She’d also put a packet of sugar in my applesauce when we went out to eat. We went out to eat every meal. Really. Every meal. “Grandmother’s cooking” means nothing to me. When I think of food associated with my grandmother, I think of the Piccadilly café. Buffet lines were the norm. She didn’t cook. The only time I saw her use the stove was to dry of my shoes if I’d played outside in the rain, or to heat up mud pies that I made in little cast iron skillets.

Real mud. In the stove. Why she didn’t insist that I put them outside in the sun to dry is beyond me. That was my grandmother.

We slept with the windows open. There was no central air in that house. That wasn’t a problem for me because I grew up that way. I’d go to sleep listening to the sound of the train whistles nearby. It is part of why I got a house close to trains. I love that sound. It reminds me of those summers, sleeping in her room, getting presents under my pillow.

“You have at your command the wisdom of the ages”
I bought my first real computer, a Gateway, with the money from my grandparent’s estate. I’d gotten this Chinese fortune around the same time. It seemed an appropriate thing to tape to the monitor. I also taped my grandmother’s name to it, as a reminder of who to be thankful to. I wrote it out in a fancy old script.

“You will discover the truth in time.”
I feel there are a lot of things I don’t know about my family. Something about this speaks to me. I’m uncovering and recovering a lot about my history through writing, art, and prayer. Things are coming back to me, things I never knew were lost. It is beautiful and difficult at the same time. There is a lot that is hidden, that I intentionally forgot. I ask Jesus into it, and it helps.

Here’s a closer picture of the last ones.

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“You find beauty in ordinary things. Do not lose this ability.”
My grandmother was very child-like. Not childish. She knew how to play. She was clever and creative and fun and whimsical. She wasn’t an adult, really, but I don’t know whether that was intentional or was the result of my grandfather’s overbearing nature. Or, was that simply the side of her that I saw?

I like this fortune because it speaks to how I make jewelry, seeing beauty in the everyday. I make treasures out of things that other people see as trash or overlook. Alchemy is part of it – turning lead into gold.

“Choosing what you want to do, and when to do it, is an act of creation.”
I feel this is a message to me from my grandmother. It and the stamp speak to me about the same thing.

Here’s a closer picture of the stamp.

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The stamp is a French stamp, and it reminds me that my grandmother was fluent in French and German, and taught both of them before she got married. When she got married, her husband insisted that she not work. He felt it was shameful to him for his wife to have to work- that it said that he was not a good provider.

Problem is, she liked teaching. She liked translating. She wanted to. But he didn’t want her to, and he won.

This reminds me of the fact that her mother wasn’t allowed to be who she wanted to be either. She wasn’t allowed to work or even to cook. It too was seen as shameful for the woman of the house to work, outside or inside the house. Her husband owned several pipe foundries and made lots of money. He hired cooks and maids. She was allowed to do needlepoint. It wasn’t pretty. It was brittle, and stiff. I feel like she was that way too. A person’s art tells you a lot about the person.

They both were stunted. It was a bonsai kind of a life. But not beautiful, like a bonsai.

This is interesting to me to realize. Both women were “free” of the traditional roles of women, and they suffered because of it. One wanted to work outside of the home. One wanted to cook and take care of the house. Neither woman was allowed to, because it would hurt the pride of their husbands.

This is what I mean about how I’m uncovering the truth through my artwork. I’ve learned quite a bit and put together quite a number of pieces this way. Things make more sense.

So then I look up how to spell Noccalula, and I find out more about the story. This is from Wikipedia. She was a “Cherokee maiden who, according to local legends, plunged to her death after being ordered by her father to marry a man she didn’t love.” Fascinating. It ties into these other women -my grandmother, and her mother. They didn’t kill themselves, but they let a part of themselves die when they got married.

I’m not anti-marriage at all. And I’m not saying that women need to work or cook to feel fulfilled. But what I am saying is that people should feel free to be who they are, and do what they want. Other people should not make decisions for them as to what they think is best for them. This applies to parents and spouses, regardless of gender. To suppress yourself in order to appease a family member is the most damaging thing you can do. It is the heart of codependency.

(I have this collage framed in a simple pop-together frame. I’ve taken it out of the frame for the pictures.)