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I suspect that most of us believe that memories preserve a moment in time, something that happened and now is being accessed and viewed “as it was once before.” I suspect that most of us believe in their memories and are attached to the very specific way something is remembered.

But what do we really remember? Is it a framed picture stored in our mind’s eye? Or is it a tridimensional object in formaldehyde filled jar?

Today I have learned about different way of remembering.  I had a conversation with my baby sister, Ola, who lives in Germany.  She was surprised I didn’t remember something she remembered so vividly.

“What do you mean you don’t remember?” she said genuinely surprised.

“I don’t.” I didn’t.

“It was when dad was home for a year after having the car accident.”

“I remember that he was home.  I was seven and you must have been four.”

“Yes, and it was the first time he made pączki.”

“And what happened?”  I asked.

“What happened was so funny!  He didn’t know that the dough will expend in the deep oil.”  My sister laughed.

“So what?” I still didn’t remember.

“So he put the balls of dough the size of regular pączki in the hot oil and the dough expended at least twice.  He ended up with pączki the size of a loaf of bread.”  Ola laughed again.  “Don’t you remember us, you and me sitting at the table and holding our pączki with both hands?”

“I don’t … but I can see you,”  I answered after a long moment of silence.

I see my baby sister sitting on the opposite side of our kitchen table.  The table is so narrow that when we put our dinner plates on it, the dinner plates almost touch.

I see a serving plate with two layers of over-sized pączki to my left side and I see my sister reaching.  I see her smile.  As she reaches, she looks at the pączki and then at me.

My sister has big blue eyes and a very long blond hair pulled up in two pony tails on the sides of her head.  Her forehead is tall and her temples are adorned with tiny blue veins that remind me of the rivers I saw in the geographical atlas our grandparents have in their library.  She has the veins on her temples, as we are told by our mother, because she is too skinny.   I wonder if the giant pączek that she is about to eat might erase the rivers, and I wish it didn’t.

As she reaches for one giant pączek, she sort of wiggles on her seat with excitement.  I see her pony tails move like a flowing golden silver and I think of her rivers again.

“Uhm, uhm,” she murmurs to herself.

And as she tries to pick up one pączek, she can’t.  Her hand is too small.  She slides off her tabouret, gets closer to the serving plate and picks up a pączek with both hands.

“Giant!” She laughs, looking at me from above it.

She sits back on her tabouret, helping herself with both elbows propped on the table and balancing her pączek.  Finally, she looks at the pączek and then at me and takes a bite as wide as she possibly can.  I see her tilting her head back as she tries unsuccessfully to close her mouth.

The yellowish white flesh of her pączek bleeds with strawberry jam and she swallows her first bite and reaches for the next one.

Am I remembering anything?  No, I still don’t remember anything, but I see my sister and what I see is born from the words I hear from her on the phone.

But what I see, I see very clearly, even though there is nothing to see because what I see had never happened.

And I think of the mind and its remembering -— how strange, how powerful, how creative, how deceiving, how comforting, how disturbing it really is.

 

 

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