Saturday, May 06, 2006


I am always struck by the relative impermanence of everything we leave behind. It starts with simple things like footprints in the sand. They take a mere blink to create, and are typically gone in a similarly scant length of time.

Beyond the beach, time does no favors to memory. For example, we tend to view architecture as permanent. Perhaps to us it is. But add a few decades or centuries and most of what we think as "permanent" will ultimately be buried ruins, waiting for someone from a future generation to discover and wonder.

Then we come to our own lives. When I read obituaries - which I often do because they are such poignant recollections of lives now lost - what sticks with me is the notion that the spirit of those who have passed on will be remembered forever by those who remain.

Perhaps. But what happens to the memories we hold when we pass on? I vividly remember my maternal grandfather and to this day reflect on the strong influence he had on my becoming a writer. Yet our children never met him. So they have no way of archiving their own memories of him because he was never a part of their reality. I often reflect on how much I wish they could have met him; what they would have thought of him and the look he would have had upon seeing them and spending time with them.

But perhaps my overly simplistic concept of permanence of memory is insufficient. Perhaps the members of each generation carry traces of who they are, and pass them subtly to their children. The lessons, passed thread-like from generation to generation, connect us to our great-great-etc. grandparents in ways more felt than viewed. But they do help us grow, shape and guide our lives, even if we choose to not pay overt attention to them.

With that in mind, my grandfather is a part of my kids. They don't remember him, per se, but much of what he stood for shows up in them because we've passed these traits on to them. The direct connection becomes an indirect one. But one no less tangible.

The footprint in the sand may have disappeared in mere seconds. But its impact seems to have hung around for a significantly longer amount of time.

Your turn: Do memories fade? How do you keep them alive?


kenju said...

Memories fade deep into our minds because we don't exercise them enough - or because too many others take their place at the forefront of our minds. Photos help preserve them, as well as scrapbooks, blogs and oral narratives during family get-togethers.

Michele sent me today, Carmi, I sure hope you will feel better soon!

Karen said...

Carmi, what a beautiful post. Such a great question, to which I don't have an answer. I try to write to remember, which is ironic since my memory fades more with every day. One way to preserve memories is to continue to surround yourself with close friends and family. I have a good friend that I've known since 4th grade. While I have tainted memories of my somewhat dysfunctional family, she remembers our childhood as precious and filled with love. She's such a gift in my life. I'm certain you have many people like that.

Hope you feel better soon. Here via Michele's....

Star said...

I have had much the same musing in my mind from time to time.As you say so eloquently, I think that the memories I share with my children will stay imprinted on them in some way, even if they don't actually have the same memory. Here from Michele.

Redneck Mommy said...

Oh Carmi, too deep for my broken heart. I struggle with this every day, fearing that no one will remember the little Bug who never spoke. I worry that his brother and sister will forget who he was when they grow up. That his impact on this family will become a distant memory, instead of the blazing glory he was.

So we talk about him, we talk to him, and we look at photos. But, still...

Hope you feel better quickly.

Anonymous said...

Deep thoughts by Carmi today I see. A great post my new friend. I try to keep them alive via my own son. Passing down rituals, lessons or laughter my own grandparents or even my mom whom he knows well shared with me. I'm of course choosey though, there are some things I'm glad he isn't burdened with remembering. For the good things though, I love seeing him smile as he tells or teaches his younger cousins. Here via Michele this morning.

Aginoth said...

Foot prints can last a very long time strech teh analogy.

Revently near us here on teh River Severn footprints were found preserved in still wet clay and silt that were over 10,000 years old !

Anonymous said...

Memories of those I have loved and who have passed on, I keep through talking about them, photos, and revisits in my mind. My nieces who never knew my grandmother and grandfather can tell you stories about them because of my sister and me. I'm sorry you are ill..get well.
Here from Michele

Prego said...

Sh*t, dude. I've been wrestling with that question since my mom died 5 years ago.

I was just remembering how four months before she died, she sang "Happy Birthday" to me on my cell phone's voicemail. I couldn't think of a way to preserve that call.

I guess pictures, conversations and in the future, a LOT of expensive trips to Venezuela with the boys (once they're "aware" enough to merit the expensive-*ss air-fare.

Here via Michele today.
(Go Sabres.)

srp said...

This is a beautiful post and the memories are kept alive through the stories, pictures, scrapbooks, visiting the places and visualizing grandparents as children there, playing and working. I know of one family whose mother wrote a book of their history and had it published. A story of her family's travels from the east across to Oklahoma by wagon. My ex-mother-in-law's family. Nyssa has a copy.

The thing that drew me to this post was the picture and something completely off topic but tangential to it. That being the mysterious way the mind works. When I first looked at the footprint, I could see the indention and the shadows and almost expected a wave of foamy sea water to rush in from the side. Then my mind started to wander, as it often does on days of cottonwood and Benedryl, and the sand and shadows suddenly reversed; revealing an "embossed", raised footprint of sand mounded up from the beach. Then as I have a see-saw type of thing going, it went back the other way and so on.

Now I am dizzy. But it really was fun. BTW, I am here from Michele this time.

Lisa said...

some memories do fade, which is why I take pictures and write as many things down as I can.

I also talk a lot about people that I want my children to remember.... even if they've never met them. My grandmother was the most influential person in my life, and my kids talk about her as if they knew her... when in reality they have no actual memory of her...

No one sent me today. I showed up all on my own. :-)

Anonymous said...

I keep my memories alive by photos, but some memories (with or without photos) just never leave you.

Here via Michele's :)

Anonymous said...

That last comment was from me!

"I keep my memories alive by photos, but some memories (with or without photos) just never leave you.

Here via Michele's :)"

mattviews said...

I nourish memories of my mother, who would have be parted with me for 6 years this summer, through associations. I cook up the dishes she used to make me when I was a child, played the vinyls she used to listen, and talk to my friends about her. Memories of her only gorw brighter and sharper in time.

Rene said...

Geez, I started this post this morning and have been so distracted I haven't had a chance to finish it.

When I was a kid, we always lived far from the extended family. My dad's parents died when I was a baby and my mom's dad died when she was a kid. All I had was one grandma and I only saw her once a year or so. I was also an only child. We weren't particularly into memory making. I married a man who's mother is all about memory making. To the point of insanity. Anyway, my husband and I strive to create memories for our kids, not just to make their lives better but hopefully to give them a sense of "emotional inheritence." As you say, our ancestors live through us. I want my kids to have that sense of connection. It would seem comforting in such a tumultous world.

Anonymous said...

memories are subjective, even if we remember them it's never exactly how it happened. So memories change, but by re thinking them or recording things we can hope to keep the essance of things still with us.

Tammy said...

Carmi, as always, you make me think. My kids (and my husband) never had the joy of meeting my grandfather (I called him PopPop, and oh how I loved him), but did get to meet (and become very close with) his wife. She has passed on now as well, but at least they did get to know her, and through her, PopPop as well.

Memories may fade, but they never really go away.

Anonymous said...

Even are blogs are wiped away into the archives almost as fast as we write them. Where does it all go? Why do we try to leave our print here?

Sandy said...

Memory is a funny thing. I believe that we're able to remember the most seemingly mundane things with the right trigger. A certain flash of color, the aroma of a certain perfume, a word spoken in a particular way - it sparks an unexpected burst of recognition.

I try to document what is seemingly important, as well as the little things. Some day my children may want to hear about their first words or how old they were when they first walked. Yet they'll be able to hear/read so much more by going through the blogs I keep and the photos we take. We document such silly things that in and over themselves mean so very little but when lumped together paint such a glorious picture.

We share a lot of "remember whens" in my circle of family and friends. It's not lamenting the past. It's celebrating it. It's remember that we can best see where we're headed when we know from where we came.

Beautiful post Carmi and I love that photo.

jennypenny said...

Wow. What a post and at a point for me where I can really get it. It hit me hard considering I just went through losing a family member this week. The memories and the impact that others have on our souls need to be remembered and cherished. Thank you yet again Carmi.

Maggie Lamarre said...

Succintly put. Hence the reason I scrapbook to preserve memories and for future generation to have a sense of who I am, and was.
Have a great week,

keda said...

beautiful post carmi.

i've been thinking about this lately too. my mum sent me a cd of burl ives for my childrens birthday, which i used to listen to at my grans house. i told my children and they asked to see her so we have spent the last weeks talking about her and my papa.

but they will forget.

i also have some friends who's 'ancestors' have written memoirs. it is wonderful to read.
writing and photography are the most permanent of course, but as you said, their influence is in everything we do.

here via michele's a little late, due to a power cut last night!

Anonymous said...

Hi Carmi,

Found myself stumbling into your thoughts, and I had to post something, because you are the only other Carmi I have found! I find that exciting, and even more so because you are male.. and I'm female.

Memory is so intangible and necessary.

Jennifer said...

I do find that memories fade. But when you least expect it they pop up every now and then to remind of us special things.

Anonymous said...

Very nice post indeed! Memories come and go but it really depends on how you hold on to it. There are memories worth to keep and also to let go.