Greg Allen: Do You Remember?

Have you ever noticed how our memory is so vividly tied to our senses? Smelling the 4th of July fireworks over the holiday instantly took me back to my childhood. The first taste of watermelon in the summer and I’m a small kid at the lake with my family. An old song will come on the radio and I can recall where I was in high school when it originally aired. Much of what I recall is also based on old family photos that I can look at and the entire picture comes alive as I relive that exact moment. I’ve been thinking a lot about memory as I heard that the story I wrote about my brother and our childhood is being distributed to the online book stores for digital download. But as I discuss that story with my sister or my mother, we all remember history a little differently.

I suppose that is the thing about our memories: they are real for us in the way that we can recall them. Some things I can recall so clearly, I believe they are happening again. Others have been blotted out and even as my sister reminds me of what happened, I simply cannot remember them in the same way. I wonder what it is in our brain that causes us to do that. Pain? Repressing a bad time? Or is it just old age and the mind starts to go? Whatever the case, I find it fascinating how two people can view a moment so differently at times.

As a writer (especially with the story of my older brother), I use memory as a way to work through some issues I never quite understood at the time. Why certain events happened the way they did. Why a person’s life turned out in such a way. And how did it all affect those living through it and those that had to keep living afterwards. I suppose our memory can be a blessing and a curse. But the older I get, the more I realize my long term memory seems so much stronger than short term. I’ll be testing that theory when I travel to Maine next month to a spot I haven’t visited in over 20 years when I did summer stock there in 1989. I can barely even recall walking down the streets of that town. (We’ll see if I remember once I taste the chowder and smell the ocean air.) But my childhood street – I can still count the houses I walked passed everyday leaving school.

Stop what you’re doing now, close your eyes, and see if you can recall a vivid memory from childhood better than something that happened five years ago. There is so much information floating around up in those brains of ours. I hope your senses helped make Monday’s festivities all that more memorable.

Greg Allen is managing director of Westminster Arts Center at Bloomfield College. He will be self-publishing his first novel, “Well With My Soul,” on October 11, National Coming Out Day. Illustration from DigitalArt.

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