Just before Memorial Day this year, we joined up with Craft of War Writing, a community writing group for veterans based in New York City, to generate new memoir work.
In collaboration with Voices from War, Craft of War Writing seeks to bring veterans’ stories to light, recognizing that each individual’s unique experience contributes to the complex truth of a broader story, in which military service to the United States plays only a part. True to this spirit, we delved into the details of the small experiences that have formed us. In order to enhance our portrayal of what we remember, we explored the things we might not remember so clearly.
Thank you to John LoSasso for bringing about this wonderful meeting! We hope you enjoy these excerpts from our Memorial Day circle. For more information, visit Craft of War Writing here .
I don’t remember when stickball went out of style
I remember my mother buying pencils for us from the corner candy store. It is the latter part of January, Nineteen Sixty-Two. We’re starting school in this country for the first time, P.S. 39. I remember living on 827 Kelly Street. I remember hearing the voices of the adults. My mother screaming in urgency to get up and get dressed. The building next to ours is on fire. I remember going to the bathroom to wash up. I did not want to go outside with a dirty face, and I remember my Aunt Maria busting the bathroom door open and screaming, “Boy, get out of here.”
I remember running down the stairs with other tenants. I had only shoes, pants, and a T shirt on. I don’t remember exiting the building, but I remember that it was my Uncle Bram who first noticed the fire. He got up that morning as usual at five o’clock to get ready to go to work. I don’t remember the date or the month of the fire, but I remember that it was cold. I don’t remember the name or address of the hotel where the Red Cross sent us to live temporarily after the fire. I remember moving to Fox Street from the hotel, being paranoid, running out of the apartment, out of the building one day after seeing dark smoke coming from the roof. It was just smoke from the chimney.
I remember being transferred to P.S. 62 and the names of my fifth and six grade teachers: Ms. Rutledge and Ms. Margolis, respectively. I remember playing stickball on the street and softball in the school yard, but I don’t remember when stickball went out of style.
I don’t remember what I did with my checkbook yesterday. I have looked all over for it. I don’t remember where I put it. Today, I remember that I don’t remember the things I’m supposed to remember.
I remember that
in the mid to late afternoon,
it was warm,
and I was sleeping.
I had my earplugs in,
the orange rubber,
heavy duty kind.
I needed something
to drown out the noise
of carpentry work,
the banging, the hammering,
the assembling of plywood,
which soon got silenced by
If There Had Been a Photograph
If there had been a photograph, it would have been in black and white with a one-quarter inch border and scalloped edges. A dark little girl, maybe five or six years old, wearing a white, somewhat sullied dress is centered between two women. The little girl wears white anklet socks and black Mary Janes and seems to be staring at her her inward pointing toes. A cotton hat, tied under her chin, covers her dark hair. She is not smiling.
The little girl’s left wrist is being held at an almost ninety-degree angle from her body by a woman who is also not smiling. She holds her as if to keep her from running away. The unsmiling woman is wearing a dark coat that hangs below her knees and a hat pulled far down her forehead. She wears shoes with thick heels. In her other hand is a small, fabric bag, not a purse, with what looks to be a leather handle. She looks very tired, and though she is young, an air of resignation lingers about her.
Standing stiffly on the other side of the unsmiling little girl is another woman who has turned away from the camera, as if she had been called at that very moment. More than an arm’s length separates her from the little girl and she seems ready to go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it is away from that pier.
In the background is a blur of what must be a moving vehicle, a horse drawn carriage, whose driver has turned toward the camera. His eyes are a pair of cloudy white circles and his carriage seems to be in a rush.
What are the thoughts of these unsmiling women standing on a busy pier? What is passing through the mind of the little girl, who has crossed a sea to be introduced to a tired woman who says, “Hello. I am your mother.”