A very good writing exercise begins with two simple words. I remember... Those two words can open a floodgate of memories. Begin with I rmember and freewrite for as long as you like. You may come up with only a paragraph or pages worth of memories. Don't stop to work out outlines or progression--use this as a freewriting exercise and see what you come up with. Most likely you'll find material that can be turned into several essays later on.
I tried the exercise one day and found myself writing and writing, all triggered by those two little words. My effort is below. Give the exercise a try and see what memories your mind brings forth. Memoir continues to be a popular genre for both professional and amateur writers.
By Nancy Julien Kopp
I remember so much of my childhood days. Incidents, events, people, and places return to me over and over, sometimes in my dreams. I so often am the age I am now, but the dream is set in someplace of long ago—a place where I might have been as a child. My childhood home figures prominently in my dreams and memories.
I grew up in a 3rd floor apartment. Six of us crowded into a 2 bedroom apartment which also had a small kitchen, pantry, dining room (which is where I slept) and a living room with a small sunroom extension on it and one bathroom with a clawfoot tub, no shower. We also had an outdoor balcony, very small and scary when you leaned over the railing and looked way down below. We never had a chair or table on the balcony like people would today. It was a place we were seldom allowed to go, reserved for those Kodak moments.
We climbed the three flights of stairs to our door carrying so many things. Laundry baskets, grocery bags, the live Christmas tree we had each December. Whatever we needed or wanted was toted up those three flights. The enclosed front stairs were carpeted, and as we climbed, we could smell dinner. Sometimes it was dinner cooking and sometimes it was a lingering odor from yesterday's dinner. We had to pass four other apartment doors to reach our floor, and the dinner smells from all four mingled. I often tried to single out the aromas to see who had eaten what that day. The back steps were outdoors and wooden. Up a big double set to the first floor, then split off to a single width set on either side, then onto another double set, and another single width set on either side leading to our floor. One more double set of steps and we landed on our back porch. There were four apartment doors on that big porch. And above the railing on our side ran a clothesline on a pulley. My mother often did hand-washing and hung the clothes to dry on that line. When there was an infant in the family, diapers fluttered in the wind every day of the week, drying quickly on summer days, and freezing to a cardboard stiffness in the winter.
I never knew what it was to be alone during my growing-up years. With three younger brothers and living in a small apartment, privacy came down to my allotted ten minutes in the bathroom each morning. The only place I can remember having solitude is when I walked to the library, which was at least once every week. Down the three flights of stairs with a load of books in my arms and away I went, past the conservatory in the next block, past the city park, and across the double set of railroad tracks. One was for freight trains, the other for Chicago Transit Authority "els" Once over the tracks, I turned onto a cinder path that ran behind the train station platform. I loved that cinder path. It made me feel as though I’d entered another world. The feel of concrete under my feet was the norm, but crunching along the cinder path brought me to another realm. The back of the train platform was to one side of me and a field of tall weeds bordered the other side of the path. Today, I would probably think it was no place for a child to be walking alone, but I did it myriad times over those years and never had a mishap. Maybe an angel walked with me.
The cinder path ended all too soon to suit me, and I skipped along the remaining block and a half until I reached my home away from home--the public library. While I made the walk to and from the library, my thoughts ran to so many things. I had time to think, to plan, to dream. I cherished that private time as much as the wonderful books I carried with me.
I remember so many good things my mother cooked and baked for us. Food was something to be enjoyed in our home, not just to eat to stay alive. Money was scarce, and Mother skimped on many things, but food was of primary importance, and we ate quite well. Steak appeared on our table only occasionally. And we knew if we had steak one night, the next night was something like tuna casserole, or a pound of hamburger stretched in any way possible, and some never even thought of before. My mother baked a lot, and she passed the love of baking on to me. She had learned from her own mother who had a neighborhood bakery for many years.
Memories feed an old soul. Memories entertain the younger generations. Memories are priceless.
Yes, I remember so many things from those childhood years on Garfield Street in Oak Park, Illinois. They helped make me the person I am today, and they've made me appreciate all that I have as an adult, not least of all, the joy of having occasional private moments.__._,_.___