Second Memory

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:

But what has been will be —
First memory, then oblivion’s swallowing sea;
Like men foregone, shall we merge into those
Whose story no one knows.

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:


Second Memory

"to add but a bud, in this thy second memory"

Here is a transcription of this entry: Wallace Letter Transcription

7 responses to “Second Memory

  1. livan86

    nice post 🙂

  2. mel

    I do love it, and will remember it.

  3. We share a love of “memory” it seems! I enjoyed this immensely! My WIP features the Goddess of Memory, Mnemosyne. The novel’s theme centers on the importance of memory to our civilization. Thank you for sharing such an intriguing story!

  4. I nominated you for the Liebster Award. I enjoy reading your blog and hope you’ll consider participating in the award.

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