Making An Impression

DeepSouthThis past summer I attended my high school reunion and reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen since that warm day in June when we wore our caps and gowns and promised tearfully to keep in touch forever.  

Old friendships are worth reviving. Childhood friends are members of a club to which no one else has admittance. But as we relived the past, one thing became clear: although we share a common experience, our memories are unique. Things that made a lasting impression on me simply washed over others, and vice versa.  

Experts used to believe that the human brain was like a filing cabinet, stocked with tiny, individual memory folders. Today scientists tell us that the process of collecting and storing memories—those experiences, perceptions, and sensations that change us forever—is far more complex. The memories we retain are those that imprint themselves powerfully on our brains, sometimes without our conscious knowledge. 

My mother suffered from dementia. Gradually she lost the memories her brain had stored in her ninety-six years of life. But two things remained–even after she’d forgotten that she’d married my father and bore a daughter (me): a Norwegian prayer she learned as a child—Jeg er liten men jeg vil, alltid høre Jesus til—and a funny little saying I imagine she heard in her teens: I love you much, I love you mighty; I wish my pajamas were next to your nightie. Now don’t get excited, and don’t lose your head;       I mean on the clothesline and not in the bed 

The word love was the trigger. Her face would light up as the tiny electric impulse crossed a synapse in her brain, retrieving the memory and sending the words to her lips. In the second decade of the twentieth century, those words must have made quite an impression on a girl who’d skipped three grades in school and entered senior high at the age of thirteen. Knowing my mother, she would have chosen something else to be her final memory. But apparently we don’t get to choose. 

As I am reworking the opening chapter of my mystery novel, my goal is to leave an impression on readers, one that will grab and hold their attention. Words are powerful. They conjure up images and evoke sensory impressions. Sometimes it is the words themselves—their sound and rhythm—that make an impression, apart from what they signify. Words have made an impression on me: 

“There was a Chinese immobility about her face, and an upward slant of the dark blue eyes. On her head she wore a fantastic Chinese hat of jade green cardboard.” Agatha Christie, Evil Under the Sun  

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan: A Vision in a Dream 

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Holy Bible, Isaiah 6:1, NIV 

“There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.” (Lady Catherine de Bourgh) Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice  

“Traditional Botswana men like ladies who are more traditionally shaped. You and I, Mma. We remind men of how things used to be in Botswana before these modern-shaped ladies started to get men all confused.” Alexander McCall Smith, The Full Cupboard of Life 

“You may be able to write a novel, you may not. You will never know until you have worked very hard indeed and written at least part of it. You will never really know until you have written the whole of it and submitted it for publication.” Ngaio Marsh, Death on the Air and Other Stories   

What words have made an impression on you?

3 thoughts on “Making An Impression”

  1. Andrea Trost Rahlf says:

    I loved reading your blog today Connie. The story of your mother’s fading memory, the two little rhymes makes me wonder what kind of memories will stick in my own mother’s mind as the years progress. Also, thanks for the lines from Kublah Khan. I loved that poetry in high school and haven’t read it for 50 years.

  2. Bruce Downs says:

    I loved your blog Connie. I’ve noticed as we get older we tend to turn to our memories and dream of what adventures each of us had. Today I was thinking of people from my past and wishing to go back and have one more conversation with them. Tell them what you now wish you had said all those years earlier. Memories are one of our most cherished gifts from God. Thank you for stirring up many happy memories of our brief crossing of paths in life.

  3. Thanks for sharing your mom’s story. It’s such a powerful one and gives me hope. Love is such a compelling force.
    Losing a parent to dementia must be so very difficult. We were headed down that road with mom – and I can’t help but feel a bit blessed that she passed as she did. There was no pain, only fatigue, and she never stopped being mom and knowing who we were.

    Hope your writing is going well. Think you’ll share some of your freshly minted first chapter?
    they are always the hardest to do! I’ve found great help from a book called “the Story is a Promise” by Bill Johnson. This is all about discovering your story’s premise and how to carry it through your book.
    Cheers to you!

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