How many times do we come across an image that reminds us of something we experienced in the past? Imagine a vast green field scattered with bright red poppies as far as the eye can see. It may sound unoriginal and travelblog-ish, perhaps, but for me it has great meaning. Poppies represent one of the best memories I have of when I was a young child. I find them evocative and inspiring. As a child I may have taken them for granted, but as an adult, they always bring a smile to my face. These fragile looking flowers have deep roots and a too-short lifespan. Yet they’re resilient, and every spring they show up, popping up from the wreckage of winter. Unsurprisingly one of the first items my husband and I bought as newlyweds was an oil painting of poppies. It traveled with us when we moved to the U.S. and still hangs in our house today.
According to studies on childhood autobiographical memory, memories with strong emotional associations are most likely to stay in your mind longer, possibly forever. Coming across this image sparked an involuntary memory associated with a grassy field close to my grandparents’ house. It was a place where I liked to play whenever we went to see them, a sort of overgrown, natural playground where poppies grew plentiful in the springtime. I have vague images inside my head of a family picnic amid a sea of red and green, of treasures found embedded in the soft earth—a shard of pottery from broken stoneware or glass from a vase. I saw my grandparents for the last time when I was seven years old when I left Italy with my family, yet I envision them so vividly in my mind.
Some of my best childhood memories are associated with my passion for reading and writing. As a young child, I was enamored with pencils and notebooks. A neighbor family had five children, all much older than me. At the end of every school year, they would tear off the written pages of their notebooks and give me the part with the blank ones to write in. I lived for those special gifts. Sometimes, if I was lucky, they’d give me some colored pencils. I treasured those pencils like nothing else, even saving the broken tips inside a small pill box. What I thought I could do with those tips is still a mystery today.
Then there’s my paternal grandmother, whom I credit for my thirst for storytelling. One of my earliest memories is of my cousins and I sitting around our ‘nonna’ and listening to the stories she told, stories I couldn’t get enough of. Only years later did I find out they were mostly made up, conceived on the spot, though no less enthralling to the ears of small children. Back then, books were a luxury we couldn’t afford, and public libraries were nonexistent in our small town, so television and my nonna’s storytelling were the only ways to feed my imaginative mind. No matter how progress and technology have changed the way we listen to, see, and share our stories, those memories continue to inspire me in my own writing and in my everyday life.
Music was also a big part of my past. My father was a drummer in a band. He played at weddings and events, and all through my childhood and into my teens I would often tag along with him. I associate music with the happiest times of my life and have a greater appreciation for it because of those treasured moments. I studied piano for a few years, though sadly I wasn’t blessed with good hand coordination and was never very good at it.
Every one of us has experiences that stay with us for life. They create our purpose, determine character and values. When I think back to my early years, I feel comforted by the memories I still preserve and often find myself yearning nostalgically for a time when things seemed simpler and easier. As the years progress, I cling to these random shreds of joyous moments, blessings that helped shape me and make me who I am today.