The issue and question of memory is very much on the minds of my family, as, tragically, it is in so many families these days. With focus on Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders, research on what, in fact, defines memory has suggested some unsettling ideas, such as an indication that we only remember an event once, after which we can only recall the memory of the memory. A common question in our conversations, particularly when referring to childhood memories, becomes: “do you remember that from experience, or from photographs?” I ask myself this question often, particularly on days like today, when I mark my mother’s birthday.
My mother, Gertie Zeiger passed away in 1998. Since then, when I remember her I eschew those associated with photographs, and focus on more ephemeral impressions, such as sounds and feeling. I find it particularly reassuring, both for matters of clear memory and for a son’s sheer animal need of a mother’s love, that one of my strongest memories is of Mom’s hugs.
I can strongly recall folding this plump little woman in my arms, particularly after I’d grown taller than her. Her head came up to my chin or below, so that I would lean down slightly to press my cheek to her hair. I can feel the coolness of the cotton blouses she liked to wear, and feel the pressure of her arms around me as I squeezed her back. I can hear the sound of her low-pitched, calm voice speaking to me from below. There are photographs of us hugging, but no photograph could create a false memory of those feelings. As long as I can hold onto that—as long as I can retain the memory of holding on to Mom, she will always be with me.