In my book my main character has to discover her forgotten past through a series of memories that return to her at inopportune times and nearly overwhelm her. I’ve been struggling to write these memories in a compelling way that gives the reader an emotional connection to her. I keep describing them as images that fly or float through her mind. But memories are so much more than that.
Today a co-worker gave me some pillow mints. You know, those little, pastel, soft, mints that sort of melt in your mouth. As soon as I saw them I was thrown into a world of sight, sound, smell, and texture. Childhood memories consumed my thoughts as I popped one in my mouth.
My Grandmother kept pillow mints on her table.
Grandma Jola was a tiny, but fierce woman. I remember her jet black hair that always got a little blacker on Tuesdays after she “washed” her hair in the garage sink.
I remember the sound of her broom running across the shag carpet as she brushed the vacuum cleaner tracks out. If I close my eyes I can remember her voice, “Quitate, quitate!” as she swatted us out of the kitchen with her apron. I remember the sound of her snapping her gum as she went about her chores.
Her hands always smelled of Jergens Almond Cherry lotion. I remember the smell of Chile Verde and Enchiladas and Tamales and Pisole; smells (and tastes) that define comfort food for me and still make me smile no matter where I am or what I’m doing.
I remember the sliced white bread she would toast for breakfast. The way the butter would melt perfectly into it – I’ve never tasted better toast.
I remember her old vinyl chair that all the grandkids used to poke holes in with our finger nails. There was something oddly satisfying about feeling my fingernail pop through the vinyl. She sat in that chair every day to watch her “stories” – soap operas.
When I was little I would reach up to hug her. By the time I was a teen ager I had to lean down for hugs. But she still called me Ronita.
I remember walking with her to do her shopping, she refused to drive. We walked to Newberry’s or to Capwells every week or so to get the stuff she couldn’t get at the grocery store up the street from her house. We would get grilled cheese sandwiches at the lunch counter. I still think of her when I sit at a diner counter and spin on the stool, while I hear echoes of “Callate” spoken much more sweetly than you might think.
All this from pillow mints.
I know now how I need to re-write a few scenes. Allannah, my main character, didn’t have a Grandma Jola, she was raised in a very clinical world. But she still had all five senses. That’s what she needs to unlock. It’s not flat, cold images that will help her move toward her goal, it’s the sights, smells, sounds, and texture of a life worth fighting for.
Thank you Grandma for the reminder, for the pillow mints, for being such an important part of my childhood. I miss you so much. But I guess you’re never far from me. You gave me my love of Mexican food (still can’t make a tortilla to save my life, though), a fondness for certain derogatory Spanish words, and the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of a memorable childhood. I think it’s awesome that you are, even years after your death, helping me with my book. Thank you!
I need to make some Chile Verde this weekend.