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Homeyer: Collective Memory

Spring is here and I’m thinking about my garden and life beginning anew outdoors. But I also lost a friend recently so I’m not only thinking about new beginnings, I’ve also been thinking about the past. I recognize that with the passing of each friend or relative, I lose a rich source of memory to supplement my own. What I think of as our “collective memory” is diminished each time someone passes, so I try all the harder to refresh and remember shared experiences – and to keep in touch with distant friends.

There are several ways I try to keep my memory fresh. One is to visit or call friends often. I take any excuse I can to connect with friends, and I’m always pleasantly surprised by how happy people are to hear from me.

I’m going to my 50th high school reunion this summer and I’m really looking forward to catching up with the people I shared those years with - and reminiscing about experiences we had together - even though I was considered a geek.

My first wife, Gretchen, and I were in the Peace Corps together in Africa, but when she died about 20 years ago, I lost a witness to the 10 years we shared. We had hitchhiked across the Sahara together and until recently I thought there was no one to jog my memory about the details of that trip.

But then I called one of my Peace Corps buddies who now lives in Oregon, and we swapped stories. I was delighted to hear him telling me about his memories of the tales we had told him of crossing the Sahara. It didn’t take much to trigger a flood of memories.

There are other ways of stimulating the memory. I started writing in a diary when I was nine years old. It was pretty simple: I wrote about the weather, what we had for dinner, and how long I practiced playing the piano. Homemade apple pie for dessert was always worthy of a mention.

What I notice now, reviewing some of those hand-written journals, is how a single sentence can call up memories that were otherwise submerged deep in my brain. So this year I started keeping a journal again.

I write much faster – and neater – on a computer than I do long hand, but up until recently I’ve resisted using the computer for writing a diary. I know that unlike my diary for 1956, computers are ephemeral. My laptop is likely to self-destruct or become obsolete before I do.

So what I’ve done is this: I opened a file on my computer, and in it I have a new document for each month. At the end of the month I print it out on 3-hole paper and insert it in a binder. It’s not as elegant as the cloth bound books that I used to buy, but it should jog my memory years from now.

Just as - with a little help from my old diary - I can still taste my mother’s apple pie.

Henry Homeyer is an author, columnist and a blogger at the
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