I read Marcel Proust's REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST way before I was old enough to understand and appreciate the importance of things past and way before I was old enough to care to remember things past. I read the book in college and what stayed with me of that book is the concept that the mere taste of a cookie can invoke vivid, living memories of a life, and that the mere taste of a cookie can bring someone's life full circle.
It's taken decades of years of living life for me to be able to realize something I could never have known in college: That it's not the taste, sound, sight, smell, or touch that is in itself so potent, but it's the memories surrounding the sense that are so potent. So real. So necessary. So much a part of who we've been and who we are.
I've found that many writers overlook or forget about the senses when creating their characters. What are the senses of a child living their childhood? What is the smell of a child’s bedroom, a parent's particular shirt, a favorite stuffed animal? What is the sound of the foghorn over the surf, the distant train whistle heard every day at Noon, the traffic outside the window? What does it feel like to touch the climbing tree in the corner of a field, grandma’s nubbly chenille bedspread, a sister’s hair?
And what is the taste of the fudgesicle Dad buys you from the gas station on the fishing dock in Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard, when you are five?
|Texaco Station, Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard|
|Menemsha harbor & docks|
Last week I experienced a remembrance of things past eating that very fudgesicle. The taste was the very same as when I ate them on the Menemsha dock at five-years-old—delicious, sweet, cold! But what happened when I bit into that fudgesicle is that my dad came back. Bright black-brown eyes in his handsome suntanned actor’s face; blue-nearly-white worn-soft denim shirt smelling of salted sweat, sun, and Camels; his deep laughter at the joy of sneaking an ice cream before dinner (“Don’t tell Mom!”); the pungent smell-medley of the sour gas station, the sharp fish on the docks, day-worn sun lotion, and the sweet, crisp chocolate ice cream from the deep-freeze. And I was right there. Back there. With my dad and my ice cream. With my dad before there was unhappiness, illness, and anger. Just my dad and my ice cream. Back there.
|Emma and her fudgesicle, |
photo by Deb Dunn
We all experience times in our lives when we need to be back there. Back in a taste, in a smell, in a sound, in a touch, in a sight. As storytellers and writers, we need to allow ourselves to tap into our own back theres to understand what the back theres are going to be for our characters. By doing so, such a richness of life will be added to our stories, and to ourselves.