Perhaps I’m a writer because I remember the past as scenes, short—or sometimes long—memories filled with details and emotions. When I work on a story, I create similar vignettes in words from images I construct in my mind, similar to my own remembrances. I often wonder why I remember the past as I do; why do I hold on to these bits of history so tightly, why tap into the emotion they represent so much later in life? Why am I wired this way?
On vacation earlier this month, I visited friends in Colorado who have a cabin on the edge of the Arapaho National Forest. Just steps from their back door, a steep hillside rises to a path that treks through the wilderness, where delicate columbines flower and deer graze. One morning searching for something to put my coffee in, I came across a brown mug in a cabinet. It wasn’t just brown: it was a certain kind of brown, with raised markings on it and a wide bottom that narrowed at the lip.
Memory. In an instant, I’m seven years old. I’m sitting at a long dining room table—the one with the secret compartment underneath. I hear the hum of a stainless steel milk dispenser in a room off the kitchen, purchased to feed my six cousins, all boys. My uncle fills a brown pitcher, a larger version of the mug I now hold in my hands, with milk and brings it to the table. The cousin my age shows me the compartment, which he swings out and back in. I think of the gray stuffed dog I brought with me, remember pulling up in front of the house in our ’64 Chevy, wondering at the time if I was getting too old for stuffed toys.
In the present, I run my hand over the raised markings on the mug. I think about my uncle’s house, long sold in a town I no longer visit. I remember the gray stuffed dog, tucked away in my basement, somewhere. I start to think about the stories I am working on, wondering where I can place a memory, where a character can reach for an object and find a brown mug.