Lileks pointed out this site on the Bleat the other day. It is just a page with hundreds of cassettes. Many of them are familiar, but for the life of me I cannot place any of them individually. All that time spent in front of a tape dubber--remember when high speed dubbing became a cheap and common? how exciting that was?--all that time recording from cd to tape, timing songs, adding up minutes, all to make a mix tape to put in the car because no one had a cd player in the car yet. (Even if you did it skipped every time you ran over a pebble. I'm surprised I never killed anyone, as much as I slalomed around bumps in the road that would halt PM Dawn mid-song.)
Still, I can't place any of those cassettes to any specific event or a specific set of music. But there are memories there, snapshots that lead to other places and emotions, some simple, some a bit more complicated: *trying to fit a tape into it's case the right direction (remember how some were upside down?)* *getting a ride in high school from one of the older guys on the football team and having to take caution not to crush any of the cassettes on the passenger side floor* *sitting in the basement and listening to a song over and over again so many times that I could rewind it to the exact spot every time.*
It's funny how just some pictures of a cassette can bring back things like that. How one thing can trigger a buried memory. Yesterday I was painting a board for a coat hanger for the new baby's room. The World Series played on the TV in the other room. As I rinsed the brush in the utility tub, another memory struck me. It was art class in third grade. The teacher was a gentle lady, older and white haired--though I realize more and more that old means something very different now. When we were finished painting, we would clean our brushes in a tub not unlike the one I have now. The water would run and the we'd push the bristles against the bottom of the tub, letting the paint run off. That year the teacher, I don't remember her name, taught us a simple way to draw a large cat sitting, facing out from the paper. That's not the memory, this is: one day early in the school year we went off to art class and took our seats. On the board she had drawn a picture of a rose and next to it written the number 4,192. She asked us what it meant. This was the kind of thing I loved, puzzles that no one else could figure out, but for the life of me I could not make sense of it. Then she told us: the night before, one Pete Rose had got his 4,192 career hit, breaking the record held by Ty Cobb. Of course.
I don't keep a diary. I've tried a few times, but I never seem to have the constancy to maintain. No discipline, you see. (And John Quincy Adams used to chide himself daily, in his diary, for some perceived failing, like only reading the Bible in Latin that day instead of Latin and Greek.) As a historian I chide myself for this all of the time. When my paternal grandfather died, part of what made it so painful was that I had planned on interviewing him about his experiences in World War II, and never got around to it. Now his service as a Seabee is lost, all except a picture or two and the scraps of memories we picked up from Grandpa over the years. I never got in the car and drove the three and a half hours to Cleveland to have him tell his story, the story he remembered so well, even when he would confuse the names of his kids and grandkids. John Quincy Adams ain't got nothing on me.
This impulse to save memories, to preserve lives in a more durable form extends beyond me, that's for sure. The frantic efforts on the part of the Library of Congress and others to record the recollections of the passing World War II generation are proof enough of that. I wonder if I am failing in not recording my experiences in some sort of diary. Should I bother? Is there anything about my perfectly mundane life that would interest folks in the future? Whenever I think yes, if only because I would love to read the diary of my great grandparents and because historians write about incredibly boring crap like parlor rooms and handkerchief manufacturing, I also think that it is too late. I should have started years ago. Now so many good memories are lost, or worse, they are unclear, vague, possibly wrong.
But are they lost? Should there ever be a reason to write a memoir--whether it be just for the family or because I've decided that the world just can't go on without me rambling on about me the historian in a multivolume autobiography (paging Mr. Schlesinger)--I wonder if it would be possible to cobble together enough of those memories triggered by cassettes and paint brushes and diesel engines to do a credible job. The Pete Rose story isn't as pointless as it seems at first blush: one of the reasons I remember it is because I was so pissed that I couldn't figure it out. I remember sticking my head in a mud puddle after a huge thunderstorm when some older kids gave me a dollar and my dad rightly called me an idiot. I remember the names of no one I went to second grade with, except a girl named Elizabeth, and that is because she was the only person in the class who ever got higher grades than me on anything. Surely the fact that my failures and my stupidity created the clearest memories says something.
Maybe I should start a diary, something I write on everyday or nearly everyday. Maybe I could use that diary to record these memories when they come up.
(Forgive the indulgence, but thanks for reading.)