Monday, June 15, 2009

Memories, anyone?

Good Housekeeping magazine’s July edition has an article called “The Price of Happiness.” The author, Brett Graff, says there are three ways to “get the most bliss for your buck.” The first suggestion is “Load up your memory bank.”

Of course, the article does mention that memories are not always free; for instance, a ski trip creates great memories, but you have to have skis first, and they will be expensive to purchase.

We found ourselves in this predicament this spring. We needed a new couch. We haven’t had a couch since we gave away ours to Rachel when she got married six years ago. Not only did we want a couch to cuddle on while we watch TV on the weekends, but we needed a sleeper sofa because in our little ranch we have no guest room and no extra beds. While our previous 3-story Victorian gave us enough room to open up a hotel, now we don’t even have an inflatable bed.

What does this have to do with memories? We are ready for 6-year-old Caroline to spend the night with us for the first time by herself, and the poor girl needs a place to sleep, right? Hence the couch. Trying to simplify, Ed and I thought long and hard about spending so much money on a couch. Was this a necessary expense, or were we just trying to rationalize a new purchase? We weren’t trying to replace a perfectly good old couch; we didn’t have one at all. We really were tired of spending the evening in two separate chairs, and we really wanted to make memories with Caroline. The justification outweighed the concerns, so we took the plunge.

I remember that when the kids were growing up, I was acutely aware that we were making memories. Even times I did not consciously realize I was making memories, I was still doing so. I laugh sometimes when I talk to the kids about their childhood memories, because some of the “staged” ones didn’t “take,” while instead they remember some oddball thing from the past. I’m the same way, of course. While I remember a great many experiences with my relatives, my first memory is of the person. I remember that my grandfather smelled of Listerine and chewing tobacco, that he had an infectious hearty laugh, played mean ragtime on the piano, and he always carried a cane which he would toss and catch in the air for fun. He always made sure we had a big store-bought Easter basket every year and a brand-name toy for Christmas. I remember Great Aunt Bessie, filling our little house with cigarette smoke early in the morning when she stayed with us for a week at a time, how she finally gave up smoking at an elderly age and went to hard candy instead, how she used to tell funny stories about her childhood pets, and her laugh was more of a snicker/chuckle with a half-smile but we could always tell she was really amused. She sent us homemade peanut brittle for Christmas. We knew our parents’ eccentricities that made them so lovable - Dad hated crabgrass, was always frustrated when he saw misspelled words on signs, and called bad drivers “Friend!..” because he knew otherwise he would be saying a derogatory word and he was not that kind of man. Mama accidentally killed our goldfish, let us keep a wild bird flying around the house for a while, let us use her real rubber jacks ball, hid our Easter eggs, and tucked banana peels in chair cushions and other sundry places, then forgot she had done so, and later they would show up in less-than-perfect condition at unexpected moments.

Buying things do make memories, experiences make memories, but it is the infusion of the human element that cements and seals them. Sometimes I wonder what our grandchildren will remember about us. Will they remember the “tree faces” nailed to three of our trees outside? Our attic? Babe? They will undoubtedly remember Ed’s pipe smoking and beard and almost-bald head, as well as his role as family cook. They will certainly remember me as the one who always had a camera, taught them some French, read them lots of books, and was someone who was willing to climb in their little tent in the basement and pretend there were big snakes all around us. The fact is that our whole being and interaction with kids is what makes memories. The good memories are not restricted only to holidays and birthdays; they are the everyday experiences of enjoying life with someone you love.

Our couch was delivered a couple of weeks ago - one more tool in the grandparent memory-making business!

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