Stumbling on Memories While Writing Memoir

It’s fun to write our life stories. Invariably, though, you stumble upon memories that discombobulate you for a moment, or a few, before you recover enough to write down the story that just invaded your happy writing flow.

The feeling is akin to walking cheerfully down the sidewalk and stubbing your sandaled toe. You shoot the broken concrete a disapproving look and walk on to shake off the discomfort, only to discover in a few steps that your toe is throbbing and bleeding. You sit on a curb and sigh at life's ability to shift your mood so suddenly. Soon, you're cleaned up, secure in the knowledge that your toe will heal, though your favorite sandal wears a new scuff mark. You’re on your way again, but with a little more care in your step.

Memory can be like that; tripping over an unexpected recollection while you’re sauntering along doing something else. This happened to me when I was out shopping alone in an efficient, get-in-buy-my-item-and-get-out, kind of mood.

I was taking the escalator down two floors to exit a department store after picking up an item in my favorite, lickety split style, when a familiar sign in my peripheral vision stopped me. To my right was a display of Alfred Dunner clothing, fashion designer for the upscale, casual, but well-dressed older woman. I use the phrase older woman, because my sense of what is old keeps shifting into the future with each passing year, and I refuse to succumb to Alfred Dunner today on principle.

I walked to the well-made clothing hanging together with their perfectly partnered pants and tops in matching hues. It’s sort of like Garanimals for adults, “Comfortable clothing that is easy to mix and match.” These were new patterns to me, but unmistakably Alfred Dunner.

Unexpectedly, my mind was flooded with memories of taking Mom to shop. Alfred was her man, so we always moved efficiently past any other designers and made a beeline to his section. My emotions caught me at the top of the throat and behind my eyes and instantly, I was holding my breath and holding back tears that tried to squeeze their way up and out of my heart.

What in the world?! Mom died six years ago, and yet here she was in all but bodily form. I ran my hand down the arm of a blouse and smiled and had an internal (I hope) conversation with her on how much she’d like it because it complemented the last pair of pants we bought together. Her perfume, Happy, hung lightly in the air and I could feel her simultaneous approval of the blouse and the disapproval of the price that perpetually accompanied a purchase of Alfred Dunner. All my senses were on high alert and I was only barely wanting to be aware that I was alone, so I did not look around in fear of breaking the spell.

My mind raced through past shopping trips with Mom. They always started the same. I pulled up in front of her apartment and texted her that I’d arrived. She’d come out to the open passenger door and set her purse down on the floor before carefully setting herself on the seat and swinging her legs in saying, “I’m so glad cars don’t have those automatic seat belts anymore. They drove me crazy! Let’s get something to eat.” Sometimes we went out to eat at a favorite breakfast spot first, and sometimes we shopped first and grabbed lunch on the way home.

Alone, back at the clothing rack surrounded by Happy and Mom and thoughts of what pattern I’d take to her changing room next, I catch myself in this nostalgic moment and look to see who has spotted the odd woman at the Alfred Dunner section. It seems like I’ve been there for 15 minutes, but only 3 have passed. No one noticed and I was disappointed that they’d missed this magic moment. I hold still, snuggled close to the clothes, hanging onto the moment that was fleeting as quickly as it intruded upon me. I feel her warm, bony hand gently resting in mine, and I shed quiet tears.

I give myself permission to feel how much I miss her in that moment, then cherish the laughter that inevitably comes when I think about Mom and her last crazy years on this earth. She was a force of nature, that one, and a woman worthy of remembering, not the forcefulness that carried her through life all those years without Dad, but the little nuances known only to me in those ways that made her Mom.