A favorite exercise of mine is to write “I remember” at the top of a sheet of paper and then let my pen go for a stroll through whatever door it chooses to open. Those two words can conjure up myriad journeys as I mine my experiences when chronicling my life. In writing a memoir, there is no need to start at the beginning and proceed chronologically. That can be daunting. Pick anything. Flesh it out, then put it aside and begin another with “I remember.” Stories will begin to pile up, and at some point you can organize them in a timeline, or not. You can group them by subject. Make your own rules.
Here is one such stroll down my lane of memories:
I remember the magically lyrical sound of the red-winged blackbird, a sound I have never heard outside of the north Rio Grande Valley area of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I grew up. Its cadence has a liquid percussive quality, much the same as that of the sound of running water over small, smooth stones.
I remember the fat, puffed-out roadrunner sunning itself on top of the old stump at 7:00 in the morning. Steam rose from its back, as well as from everything else around it as the sun stretched its long warm fingers through the previous night’s chill. Eventually the roadrunner would shake itself, take a long, graceful jump to the ground, and streak its way down the road next to the field of Johnson grass.
It was in that field where my cousin Teresa and I almost lost our lives. We were about six-years-old, playing in the tall grass — much taller than ourselves. We heard my father circling the field in the tractor. Mounted on the front was an eight-foot row of steel cutting blades. He was mowing the field! Teresa and I thought it fun to play hide-and-seek with him.
The noise of the tractor got louder as my father’s circular path got smaller. He finally had a small patch of tall grass left in the middle of the field — but something told him to stop. He shut the tractor off and looked at the remaining grass: our hide-out. All around the field lay the cruel remains of a once-majestic “forest”: our jungle. It lay slashed and dying, the air pungent with the milky bleeding of the thick Johnson stalks.
It was all we could do to suppress our giggling. We were virtually unaware of the reality around us — the possibility that the only bleeding in the field that day might not be white.
My father called out our names. We were discovered! The game was over. As we sheepishly emerged from our hiding place, my father must have died a thousand deaths realizing what could have happened in that field. Decades later, because he paid attention to an inner voice, I am able to sit here and write, “I remember . . . .”
Postscript: I have always admired the “sixth-sense” that women seem to have — the innate connection to their children. My father proved that day that men have it, too. We just need to be a little more grounded, to be in tune with our feelings and listen to them.
[Originally published in Soul Moments: Marvelous Stories of Synchronicity — Meaningful Coincidences from a Seemingly Random World, 1997 by Phil Cousineau, Conari Press