Thursday, August 18, 2016

Memory of One Ordinary Moment (August theme) by Claudia Mills

Many and sweet are my memories of the special joys of childhood summers. Walking to the public library every other day with my sister to carry home the four books the library allowed us to check out, reading all four as fast as we could, and heading back two days later to collect four more. Listening for the music of the Good Humor ice cream truck. Playing badminton and croquet in the back yard. Running through the sprinkler on stifling New Jersey days. Writing and sketching in a rowboat on our annual family vacation to a small lake in New Hampshire.

But one day of one July of one year, sitting on our front porch alone one afternoon, I decided that I wanted to save a memory that wasn't a special memory, but a completely ordinary one. I wanted to preserve one completely ordinary moment. I sat there, scratching a mosquito bite, on an afternoon of the usual triple-H of heat, haze, and humidity, and thought: This one. This is the ordinary moment I'm going to keep forever.

And I did.

A week or two later, greedy, I thought: I want to save another ordinary moment. If I could save one, why not save two? But, as it turned out, I couldn't save two. All other attempts at saving completely unremarkable time failed utterly. Only the first ordinary moment remains.

But maybe I could have saved more ordinary moments if it had occurred to me to set them down permanently in written words.

As a reader, I cherish the record of the small ordinary moments that make up the texture of a character's life. No author has ever captured these better than Eleanor Estes, who won Newbery Honors three years in a row in the 1940s (for The Middle Moffat, Rufus M., and The Hundred Dresses) and then went on to win the Newbery Medal in 1952 for Ginger Pye. The first lines of her first book, The Moffats, offer a description of Mama peeling apples: "The way Mama could peel apples!"  That's all. Just Jane Moffat marveling how Mama's "peelings fell off in long, lovely curls," while her own best efforts result only in the "thick little chunks that she popped into her mouth." Instantly, I identified with Jane and shared her yearning for apple-peeling competence. The smallest moments of Jane's anxious ruminations stayed with me for decades; I can still quote them by heart.

That's what I strive to achieve in my own books, which I admit fall into the oft-dismissed category of "quiet": an honoring of the ordinary, a remarking upon the unremarkable, a celebration of the everyday, a fixing in words of the fleeting, precious moments of childhood that would otherwise vanish without a trace.

3 comments:

  1. I love your celebrations of the every day!

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  2. Totally agree--I wish I'd saved more ordinary moments.

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  3. Thank goodness for writing! - and how it lets us both save and celebrate.

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