In the opening of her beautiful memoir, West With the Night, Beryl Markham coined one of the most memorable beginnings to a book that I have ever read: “How is it possible to bring order out of memory? I should like to begin at the beginning, patiently, like a weaver at his loom. I should like to say, 'This is the place to start; there can be no other.’ But there are a hundred places to start for there are a hundred names — Mwanza, Serengeti, Nungwe, Molo, Nakuru.”
Perhaps the names of these African places are memorable because they sound exotic, and yet Markham was only being particular, only naming as a way of rooting us in reality, like dropping a pin on a map. It’s something to hold onto. I like to say those names aloud, as when I hear them I dream about them.
My memoir would have different names, but they are no less memorable. There were streets named Gracewood, Fernwood, Pender, Cornwallis, and others I can’t pin down where I grew up. The houses weren’t thatch but colonial brick. Pines grew instead of thorn trees. And while I smile at the names picked by our suburban developer, names made for selling houses to middle-class families, for marketing a way of life, they nonetheless adhere to memory, exotic in their own way.
All to say, we don’t remember in abstract. We remember in particulars. I don’t remember some abstract “childhood” but a particular house on a particular street. God came to us enfleshed, incarnate, particular. So do our memories. Just name them. Pin them down and dream on them.