“Memories are rooted in place: a lifetime of kitchens, backyards, porches, and patios. Our bedroom and our best friend’s bedroom, the street where we played until dark and our parents called us inside, the park where we picnicked, the swimming pool with its aquamarine water smelling of chlorine or the pond on the farm with its muddy banks. If you want to enter a memory, enter a room in your grandmother’s house. Remember an incident, and the place where it happened will figure prominently in the story. Everything happens somewhere, and if you want to bring the memory alive, be in the place where it occurred.
We enter these memories through our senses, though what we smell, what we see, what we hear. … Another way to enter memory is by saying the name of a place. There’s a kind of magic in naming that generalities can’t evoke. Tinker Creek, Ghost Ranch, Bean Lake. That last one I’m sure you’ve never heard of. It’s a small lake in Missouri where my family vacationed, where my father could fish and we girls could splash around in the muddy water, getting sunburned and mosquito eaten. I would only have to say ‘Bean Lake’ to my sisters, and their memories would conjure their own story of our brief, carefree time at the lake.”* …
Eudora Welty wrote in her essay, “Place in Fiction,” “We do not say simply ‘The Hanging Gardens’ — that would leave them dangling out of reach and dubious in nature; we say ‘The Hanging Gardens of Babylon’ and there they are, before our eyes shimmering and garlanded and exactly elevated to the Babylonian measurement.”
“My Bean Lake is hardly The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but by saying its name, I am transported back to a time of childhood, and not just to the smell of lake water on sunburned skin or to the taste of cherry Popsicles that barely cleansed the residue of that muddy water from my mouth; the memory is tinted by the color of childhood — in my mind, innocence awash in sepia.”*
Exploration: Place and Memory
Write the name of a place at the top of a clean sheet of paper. Maybe it’s a place you’ve wanted to write about for some time, or maybe the name came spontaneously. If you’re writing fiction, write a place for a scene to unfold, and let the memories be those of your characters. Then enter into the writing through a particular sensory door—sight, smell, sound, taste, touch; or through a season—summer, fall, winter, spring; or through a time of day or night.
If you’d like, share your memory in the comments section below.
*from Wild Women, Wild Voices — Writing from Your Authentic Wildness, Ch. 6—Writing Place: The Geography of Our Lives