In Joe Brainard’s I Remember, he talks about his childhood through a series of well-spaced sentences. Each line begins with “I remember…” While my first impression was that of annoyance (I had thought it read like a ‘grocery list’), my classmates discussed what they had liked about it so I decided to reread the essay once more. Upon a second reading, I could understand what they were talking about. There were some points that were very relatable to my own childhood that also took me on a nostalgic ride down memory lane. The sensory and visual imagery within Brainard’s essay was very vivid and to the point. “I remember cold mud between your toes, under warm brown water.” As a child, I would run the hose in the backyard while the water would make soupy mud puddles while I sank my toes into them. I started to remember all the little things I had forgotten that seemed so inconsequential as a child, but now has sentimental value attached to those memories. He also talks about remembering body realizations and the fragility of it all. It made me think what it was like back when I was a kid wanting to become a grownup so I could do “grownup things” (whatever those things were). Now, it seems to me like all this time during childhood when I was in such a hurry to grow up; never fully realizing that I can’t turn back the hands of time, that I look at how my body has changed over the years with the stark realization that life is precious and that I’m nostalgic about the years passed.
Which brings me to, Andrei Codrescu’s Nostalgia for Everything. In the essay, Codrescu talks about in a poetic fashion what he is nostalgic about. He starts off with two references: one to Jules Verne and another to Marcel Proust “who smelled a cookie and couldn’t stop remembering.” Codrescu connects it to wood fires which then, in the next few lines leads to his nostalgia of “kicking leaves.” He talks about an ordinary moment (eating an apple) which turns into an extraordinary moment that imprints on his memory by everything around him turning into “nostalgic gold.” I have had moments like that myself. I remember as a teenager who had just broken up with her crazy ex boyfriend, a moment in time that is frozen in my brain. I was sitting in the passenger seat of a red Dodge Stratus while tears streamed down my face. A tall, thin young man (my new boyfriend, now my husband), looked at me while he held my face in his large hands and said the words that is my golden nostalgia, “You deserve happiness.” I knew in that instant, that he meant it and that he was the one for me. Codrescu peppers several lines with “I remember…” much like Brainard’s essay. However, I liked Codrescu’s integration of a narrative story which Brainard’s essay lacked.
In Tobias Wolff’s Last Shot, it starts off with Wolff’s attempt at connecting with his son through George Orwell’s essay “How the Poor Die.” He was actually enjoying himself, when a particular line caught him off guard. “It is a great thing to die in your own bed, though it is better still to die in your boots,” that line seemed to resonate with the author in a way I didn’t understand at first. Why would he be so mad at that line while he enjoyed the rest of the book? It seemed to me that Wolff understood a different kind of meaning behind that line than I did. At the end of the second paragraph, he explains that men who “die in their boots” are a reference to getting blown up in the military. He goes on to talk about men he knew in Vietnam, and how he was particularly close with a guy named Hugh. What really made this essay standout to me was, how we have a tendency to remember people that have passed away in thoughts of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if only’ and instead, to remember loved ones as they were when they were alive; the kind of person they were, what their favorite food was, their laughter, their voice, etc. I have very fond memories of my grandmother who would make my favorite Indian dish from scratch, whenever I got home from school. I remember prior to her mental and physical decline, how I would revel in teaching her the rules of a new board game that I had just gotten and we’d play together. It is important today especially, to remember those who lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks as the people they were prior to that horrific event. Although, I personally do not know anyone that died on that day, I hope their families remember them for they were and not as an absence.