Memories a la Proust

There is nothing phenomenal about my memory. Much of what I remember is incidental and rather disconnected. I certainly do not have total recall.

In the days when I was persevering with Marcel Proust, I found him both fascinating and tedious. For me, he seemed to remember almost too much, or perhaps I should say he didn't sift it down quite sufficiently.

I recall so vividly my Aunt Bertha poking a long hatpin studded with sparkling gems in her then-fashionable beaver hat. How careful she was, at times having to make several attempts before hitting the target. And what a beautiful handbag she carried to church on Sundays, silver mesh and as resilient as water. How I loved the feel and texture of it.

Then there was the lady at the street carnival who, upon receiving a signal from the barker (who was too hoarse to entice a larger group for that performance) submerged herself in a large tank of water and proceeded to eat a banana. Not a small one, but a large banana that she ate leisurely and daintily, while I tried to hold my breath as long as she did, unsuccessfully of course.

I even recall the way she winked at me through the thick glass and smiled somewhat wistfully.

One of my earliest recollections is of climbing the closed stairway to bed (there were 11 steps) and realizing about halfway up that it was not necessary to place both feet on each successive level. I can relive that precise moment and recall how grown-up I felt.

Elvira Monesmith was old and lived alone. Every so often, she would rap on our kitchen door around supper time, knowing that she would be invited to share our well-prepared meal. On this occasion, supper included corn bread that my mother baked, golden brown and crisp on the outside, in a huge iron skillet.

What amazed me at the time (I was five or six years old) and what I remember most is the way our guest spread pear preserve on her corn bread, then garnished it with a pinch of horseradish.

``Brings out the flavor,'' she explained.

On my very first day of school, our teacher, Miss Weber, handed each member of the class a sheet of heavy paper with the bold outline of a goose. We were instructed to fill in the outline with a pencil containing thick lead. (In my case, the pencil was more than half used.) We were to take only the tiniest, neatest strokes and be ever so careful in following the outline. Every detail of that goose is inscribed in my memory.

At recess time, I was so absorbed that I did not file out with the other children. ``Don't you want to go outside for awhile?'' asked Miss Weber.

``Oh no,'' I replied anxiously. ``I want to finish the goose while my pencil lasts.''

Upon reading what I have just written, it occurs to me that I may have more in common with Proust than I had at first realized.

As for the sifting of memories, I am reminded of my mother as she sifted flour for an angel food cake. Not once, but three times.

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