I remember reading Joe Brainard’s book, I remember. It brought back so many memories that I use those universal words, ‘I remember’ as a writing prompt in my workshops. It’s an easy way to start the writing process and connects people with themselves. The trick is, to write not only the good memories but also the bad ones. I went through my notebooks and looked at my ‘remembers.’ I hope it will inspire you to write your memories.
A concrete barrier brings memories: Waves from the Atlantic Ocean splashing over the sea wall, splattering our car as we drove to the sugar estate. I remember getting wet because it was hot and we always had the car windows open.
I remember the salty taste of the air, the sweetness of sugar cane, molasses and raw brown sugar. Wide open spaces, the bluest sky, puffy white clouds and the green of trees and bushes rustling in the breeze.
I remember the house, dim when the wooden shades were closed to keep out the noon heat.
I remember the sunshine, roaming the estate with no shoes, the gravel road that poked the bottom of my bare feet. The woman, who worked in the yard, her gypsy skirts, silver and gold bracelets on her ankles and wrists. She didn’t speak English, Hindi I think.
I remember being afraid of her and hiding behind my mother.
I still remember the feeling of drowning at three years old in a flood. The sensation of spinning in a tunnel even though I was lying unmoving, face down in the water. I remember the blue dress and red rubber boots I wore that day.
I remember being scared of water for the longest time until I learnt to swim.
I remember the station wagon that picked up the estate kids. I once knew the name of the driver. I don’t know it anymore. But I remember his smell: aftershave mixed with curry. He drove us down the coast to various schools. At the end of the day, he picked us up and took us back to the country.
I remember Texas. Blue Bonnets. The mile walk to Lamar Junior High and the mile home, rain or shine. The only public swimming pool, chlorine in the air, sun beating down hard, hot concrete under our feet, and The Beatles coming from a transistor radio.
I remember school football games on Friday nights, the musty smell of the bowling alley on a Saturday afternoon. The roller rink, Debbie in her skating skirt, her face red and sweaty as she twirled.
I remember wishing someone would dedicate a song to me.
I remember Texas A&M University pool. Kate and Gloria didn’t want their teased, almost lacquered hair to get wet. While they posed at the side of the pool, I jumped from the Olympic diving board. It felt like a roller coaster ride. I remember sunlight twinkling on the water like fairy lights guiding me to the top.
I remember working at The Buccaneer after school and during summer vacations for fifty cents an hour. The way chopped onions burnt my eyes. The way grease from the grill and fryer saturated the kitchen floor, my hair and face. And I made the perfect soft ice-cream cone.
I remember nearly everyone in junior high and high school drove.
I remember my aunt let me drive when I was fourteen. I never told my mother.
I remember Judy, Darla and I driving around in Judy’s brother’s convertible Thunder Bird, our hair wild in the wind as we drag-raced boys. I remember the squeal of tires and stink of rubber on asphalt.
I remember how much I missed everyone when I moved to Canada.
I remember my first morning in Toronto, November 1st, 1966. My sister and I took the streetcar and subway. It was a new experience.
I remember the rumble and shudder of the wooden escalator in Eaton’s.
I remember starting East York Collegiate. I didn’t like it. It was too big. Ice-skating at city hall, frozen toes and fingers.
I remember in 1968 CHUM FM changed to rock and roll.
I remember my first full-time job, Double Day Publishing Company, the staleness of the old building on Bond Street and the noxious ink in the books.
I remember my next job, the insurance industry. File cabinets that clanked, adding machines that clunked and typewriters that pinged. I made sixty-five dollars a week. I thought I was on the money.
I remember turning twenty-one and moving into my first apartment—builders’ beige walls, pink kitchen cupboards, parquet floors, and green tiles in the bathroom. The second-hand couch a co-worker gave me, pots and dishes my mother no longer wanted and my large record collection. Heat from the radiators, stifling air, checking and re-checking the alarm on my clock radio to make sure I’d set it, afraid I would be late for work.
I remember waking up to Jungle Jay Nelson on Chum AM.
I remember spending all my money on an expensive stereo. The airy feeling of freedom, being able to smoke, having friends over and watching television until the stations went off the air.
I remember eating strawberry ice cream with sliced bananas, peanut butter and chocolate sauce for dinner, or not eating at all, and reading all night.
I remember running down the hill in the mornings to catch the bus to the subway. The guy who stopped and talked to me every morning. When the bus arrived, he left. We had a strange bus stop relationship.
I remember someone in Becker’s asked me on a date, said he worked for K-Tel Records. He could get me as many albums as I wanted. I remember thinking, K-Tel? Really? I told him I had a boyfriend. It wasn’t a lie.
I remember on muggy nights dragging my mattress to the living room and sleeping with the balcony door wide open.
I remember bars—smoky, body odour mixed with cigarettes, cologne and alcohol.
I remember I loved Canoe men’s cologne.
I remember I used Love’s Baby Soft perfume.
I remember my friend Diane. We covered my pink kitchen cupboards with brown Mactac to give them the appearance of wood. It turned out to be a gluey mess. I remember we laughed because it looked awful.
I remember we painted my white dresser red. We ran out of paint and left it half white and half red. It looked silly. I threw it away three years later.
I remember the macramé hanger and green lampshade with black fringe that she made me. It reminded me of something out of a saloon in the Wild West. I kept that lampshade and hanger for years.
I remember one night she showed up with a bottle of Canadian Club Rye and a marijuana joint. She started to cry. Her boyfriend had broken up with her. I cried too because I was sad for her. Someone knocked on my door. By then we were dancing and jumping around to a song. Paranoia set in. I freaked. The rye and coke squished around in my stomach. I thought I would pee my pants. The stereo was loud. We were drunk and stoned. I swore it was the police. We’d be arrested. I’d be evicted. Diane opened the door to find someone from the Conservative party—could they count on our vote. After the woman left, we turned the music back up, lit wine-dipped cigarillos and played cards-Old Maid and Go Fish.
I remember Wasaga Beach May to September—blazing sun, scorching sand, Tropicana suntan oil, and the dank cabins we stayed in on the weekends. We did that every summer for three years.
Most of all, I remember our many long conversations about everything including the meaning of life and the problem with guys. We came to the conclusion that guys were one level up from boys. Guys still lived at home with their parents and weren’t mature enough to take a relationship seriously. Their only pursuits were sex and fun. Men had their own place and were more likely to make a commitment. We were dating guys. We needed to meet men.
I remember the incredible feeling of falling madly in love and the numbness of a break-up.
I remember my second apartment, the newness of it, the recreation centre, indoor swimming pool, and Dominion grocery store. The toxic fumes of shellac on the polished floors.
I remember I bought a new couch and a lime green shag rug.
I remember when Tom, the person I dated that summer broke up with me, I said, that’s fine. After all, it was just a summer romance. He was still a guy, and the relationship had nowhere to go. He didn’t understand.
I remember hanging up the phone and thinking: yep, you’ve come a long way, baby.
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