By Gerald Hausman
Santa Fe, NM, USA

It was the folkloric figure, Hondo Crouch of Luckenbach, Texas, who famously said, “You can’t forget memories.”
I have his quote on a T-shirt and it never fails to draw a smile from the people who see it.
In a more serious frame of mind, a friend asked, after reading my book of memories, Little Miracles, “What do you do to keep your memory working far back in time.”


I am reminded that the oldest memories are the easiest ones to recall as we age. It’s the moment by moment, fractious memory that seems to fall apart. So we work, willy-nilly, at remembering; at what Marcel Proust, the greatest rememberer of modern literature, called “La reserche du temps perdu.”

In search of lost time …

During a writing workshop writer Chris Riedel went back as far as possible to recall going into his father’s barn where, for some reason, he saw a small cup of kerosene, took it and downed it. He was possibly two years old and he dropped dead on the floor of the barn. The way he told the story, as if researching as he spoke, he awoke a little later in the hospital.

In retelling this true story, I feel a bit guilty because I am always researching lost time. Reaching into the not-too-distant past to bring up again Chris’s riveting, true revelation.

And there you have it: it’s all in the past, even when it’s in the present. After the moment of occurrence, it’s all imagination and memory.

Proust used a teacake, given to him as a child, to bring back a lost moment in time. Jack Kerouac (nicknamed “Memory Babe” in high school) used drugs, people often like to say, to get back into his early days. I believe that’s not true; he used the original time machine, mind, to go back to his teen years.

To answer our friend’s question, though … How do you strengthen your memory and go back fifty years or more?

The great sci-fi fantasy master, Roger Zelazny, once told me it helped him to read. Seven books a week, he added.

My father did a kind of “yoga recollection”. He put his open palms behind his head, closed his eyes, and leaned back in time. One memory he returned to many times was done in just this way, reaching back. Each time he reached new details emerged.

The story was about a man in a factory who saved the lives of two other men who were cleaning a large vat of chemicals. When, suddenly, more lethal chemicals spilled out of a broken supply pipe, one of the men jammed his hand, then his whole arm, into the orifice.

So, one man saved two others from being scalded to death, but the rescuer lost his arm all the way up to his shoulder joint.

In his recollection, my father always expressed the moral of the story. The man who saved two others didn’t think, he acted. The rescue was instant. My father concluded, “A purely unselfish act comes from a truly unselfish person.”

But as I was saying, the more I heard this story, the more I realized my father was recapturing the past, one little detail at a time.

A fifteen-year-old in a writing workshop I taught in Indiana told a classroom full of young writers that she could remember being born. She described it in perfect detail.

“How do you do that?” a classmate asked.

“By not forgetting,” she replied. “I just remember.”

Gerald Hausman

I remember the time when I was five and I was run over by a car at night. And I also see myself jumping out of second story windows, landing softly, and rolling to a standing position. These are dramatic actions. You do not forget them easily. However, try and recall the exact color of a person’s face or something fairly mild in the memory zone, like the color of eyes from fifty or sixty years ago. You need a stimulus, a lightning strike!

Lying in bed though, when I was thirteen, I tried to remember my first romantic kiss. I went back to a fifth birthday party. There was the girl … what was her name? In the darkness of my attic bedroom I saw her short pageboy hair and then suddenly her name sprang forth. Judy.

Another time I stared at my face in the mirror, trying to recall each scar. There was one on my forehead where a friend, a student of mine, struck me with a martial arts sokol pole. I stared and the memory came back. There is no bleeding like a forehead wound.

I reached back and touched another scar-tissue memory. My best friend, farting around as we used to say, chunked me on the nose with a WWII sand shovel. The scar gets very dark in the sun, but occasionally, in winter, it actually drips a little blood, as if the nose remembers.

I met with this old best friend, and he confessed the only memory he deeply shared with me was swinging from wild grape vines in the deep, lost woods in our backyards. The two of us swinging like monkeys.

I actually did some swinging motions on a parallel bar and the memory came back strongly. I saw the tree enveloped in vines and the two of us arcing back and forth. I then envisioned a picture of his house, his porch, his parents, his brothers. It all came back. One swing and I was back there, fifty years ago.

Some get their memory working by taste, others by smell. A few by visionary recollection. Some by imaginative meditation. Recalling time past – literally, calling it back.

I swear by the “muscle memory test”. The memory stuck in the mind, is always there. On file, as it were. Waiting to be retrieved.

It’s like the character in Erich Maria Remarque’s collection of stories called Eight Stories. A man in WWI is buried by a bomb and he is in a front-line trench. Timbers have fallen on him and he is pinned and cannot move. And there he stays for many long hours until a rescue is accomplished, and the soldier’s life is saved.

As the story unfolds, we find that the recovered man has what we now call PTSD, but to such an extent that he is frozen in time. Yet no one can say how frozen his mind is because he’s unable to speak about his experience. He sits in a state of isolation, held prisoner by dark forces.

His wife, however, will not rest until he is brought back, as if from the dead, and returned to his former self.

This true story completes itself when the resolute woman brings her forlorn husband back to the very dugout where the bomb fell and imprisoned him. She insists that he climb down into the darkness of the death pit where all his comrades were killed.

There he wanders, picking up bits of metal and wood. In each of those simplistic movements, he somehow finds himself, and for the first time, speaks his wife’s name. “Anna,” he says aloud for the first time since the bombardment.

My belief is that as writers we work the memory muscle every day.

Remarque did so and wrote one of the most poignant 20th century war novels ever written – All Quiet on the Western Front.

I believe, now more than ever, that writing from memory is a gesture of love. To write is to love again. Try going back to another time, one lost to your conscious mind. Research yourself in the ghostly mirrored remembrance of forgotten time.

A different person awaits you.



Gerald Hausman is an award-winning, bestselling author and storyteller. 
His memoir, Little Miracles, was published in July 2019.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.