Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ~ from The Wonder Years
The concept of memory has always fascinated me. The idea of preserving and studying “memories” shaped my education as a historian, and especially work I’ve done in oral history. As an archivist, my days are filled with preserving pieces of the past for the future. As a writer, I try to capture memories –both real and imagined. Memories are not only “what happened” but how we remember “what happened,” which is oftentimes just as important.
While adding new materials to one of our manuscript collections one day, I had one of those “wow” moments archivists love – when you find something that touches your heart, a poignant piece of the past that has been undiscovered for ages. In this case, it was a simple autograph album. The book was about half-filled, but each of the entries was a charming piece of writing. It belonged to Anna Elizabeth Barr Wallace, a young woman who was leaving her Indiana home in the 1850s to get married and live in southwest Ohio. With entries dating between 1853 and 1879, the book was filled with the thoughts and good wishes of family and friends. Some of the pages were written in elegant, detailed script; some were so light that they are faded almost completely away. But each was filled with love, affection, stories, and good wishes — something she could take with her into her new life and use to remember long-ago friends.
One of the entries particularly caught my fancy and was the genesis of the title for this blog. It is also the background image. My favorite passage is the one highlighted in the top image of the blog pages: “Pleasing indeed would it be to enroll my name on these fair pages and know that I am not entirely forgotten – to add but a bud, in this thy second memory.”
The desire to be “not entirely forgotten” is a human one. Thomas Hardy touched on it in a beautiful poem titled “The To-Be-Forgotten” when in Stanza VI he wrote:
For me, then, history and writing are my ways of preserving memories – those of people whose history I work to preserve every day, those of my characters whose stories I tell, and those of mine that I don’t wish to forget.
Here is the full entry from Anna Barr Wallace’s album:
Here is a transcription of this entry: Wallace Letter Transcription