The Memories that Get Stuck

MekongfruitsmallHave you noticed how every summer has a mood all its own that brings flashes of memories? It’s as if you’re watching a movie of someone else’s life.

Summer like one of those chic flicks that packed the theaters back in the day. Fried Green Tomatoes. Dirty Dancing. The Summer of ’42.

Busy. Melancholic. Content. Delicious. Slow. Quiet. Depressed. Time slowing down, speeding up.

Sometimes it has to do with the colour of light or catching a glimpse of someone’s eyes underneath a hat when the sun streams through the weave of the brim and deposits checkered patterns on their freckles. At the beach, the smell of sunscreen on burnt skin. Too late. Nose crinkled at seaweed smells. Stones stuck  between toes in flip flops.

A new love. A kayak trip. Camping with those people you never see anymore. The largest evergreens. Shade. Fighting over something you can’t even now recall. The anger, white, fast.  Cycling in the Fraser Valley. Day trips to new places close to home that might as well be far away.

Waking up beside you in that small top-floor bachelor suite in that old house on Balaclava Street and always the way the light hits the wall above your curly head. Fruit stands and liquid honey in plastic bears. A late afternoon swim during a thunderstorm. Was that wise? Necking on the rocks in that ocean-side park. The way a chair felt against my back when I heard that my sister had died.  Granville Island and my friend, the blonde, you know the one, we all had one.  The scenery as cars whizzed by and wanting to stop, to disappear and stand beside a river, skip stones and never come back to my real life.

Often, for reasons I can’t explain, when the heat is nudging breath early on a brilliant summer day like this morning’s, catch a memory from year’s back and ride it like a wave.

Sunday morning. I was eating cereal at the kitchen table of the house I grew up in. I was alone at the table, which, at that time, would have been unusual. Where was everyone?  Was I getting ready to go to my part-time job at that paint store? I was just a year out of high school.

It was one of those August days (was it August?) when by 8:30 am the heat in the kitchen had to be blocked by a pull- down blind. Outside, on the street that passed our house, I couldn’t see them but I could hear them. Guys, walking by. Mostly guys it seemed. Occasionally, the click of cleats on the pavement. A hardball tournament that day. Tennis across the street. Stuff, lots of it, needing carting. Voices, back and forth. Busy.

And, then, back to me in the kitchen. Day dreaming. Newly awake. Still waking.

No warning. BOOM. One strong, loud blast. Far away. Confusing.

Turns out it wasn’t summer after all when just now, I look up the date. May 1980. Really? How could it have been May? Memory so untrustworthy.  So positive that it was August.

I stopped eating, got up from the table and walked out to the back deck. I feel the smoothness of it under my bare feet. Everything seemed fine. Shrug. Turn to go back inside. Wondering.

The morning that Mt. St. Helen’s erupted.

If you lived in the Lower Mainland then, do you remember hearing it? Do you remember what you were doing and where you were?

Do you wonder why some memories, not just the big ones, like that one, but ones that everyone else would have left behind, sometimes get stuck and replay all the time for reasons you can’t even explain?


  1. Great article! Love your work. I remember a lot of moments and feelings from the day the bushfires swept through here. Sounds like you have had many interesting experiences to draw from.

    1. Thanks Nat. Appreciate you saying so. Hope the bushfires aren’t a threat at the moment. I suppose it is “winter” there.

  2. Wow this blog post hit home for me. Not so much because of the Mt St Helen’s reference, nor because of the hometown that you and I shared, but because of the perfect way you’ve written of those layered memories that aren’t quite exact and yet remain powerful.

    I’d love to read more of this type of writing from you, Gayle. You have such a talent for it. Oh, heck, let’s face it, you have a talent for all kinds of writing! :)))

    1. Thank you Jo-Anne. I was thinking that myself as I was writing it. I was thinking that I like this type of writing. Just stream of consciousness. I should do more of it. You were reading my mind. Thanks for saying it out loud.

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