One of the prompts involved lots of sensory details from a childhood memory. She suggested writing something that had to do with a school cafeteria, but I have almost zero memories of school cafeterias as a child, so I went with the sensory details of an early beach memory. It is set in Morro Bay, California, the town I lived in until I was 14.
Morro Bay Memory
There was a narrow strip of beach beneath the towering stacks of the PG&E electrical generation plant. It was not a sunny beach because it was tucked between the shadows of the PG&E stacks. We called them smoke stacks, which was incorrect, but calling them steam stacks would have sounded funny and it never occurred to us. No, it was not a sunny beach—if the sun wasn’t behind the PG&E stacks immediately to the south, it was behind Morro Rock a quarter-mile to the north—but we went there often, I think because it was a good place for my mother to read her books. Not that they had to be read in the shade, but the riprap--huge black rocks stacked between the beach and the harbor road--cut the constant northwest winds, and she didn’t have to worry about my brother and me drowning ourselves in waves because there weren’t any.
The little beach was just the right size for a four-year-old, and when my mother took us there so we could play and she could read, I experienced the sense of enclosure that comes to little children when they are cupped within a bit of the world that has become its own place altogether. The gulls dipped and swung overhead, their cries part of the ceiling of sky. Mostly I patrolled the border of wet sand, molded into hard little ridges by the lapping wavelets in the harbor, gathering brown and gray periwinkle shells only a little smaller than my thumb. My mother, sitting on her beach towel with a novel in her hand, was far enough away that she couldn’t hear me narrating my own story in real time, a third-person drama that interested no one but me.
“She walked along the water slowly,” I intoned, watching my bare feet as the wet sand made little sucking noises with each step. “She was looking for shells, and pretty soon she found one.” Another shell for my pocket. “Her brother was at the other end of the beach and her mother was reading a book.” The wind blew my white-blonde hair across my face and I brushed it away. “Then she found another shell.” It was a narrative that I carried inside my head most of the time, but the only chance I had to articulate it aloud was here at the little beach, where the gulls and the wind and the quiet roar of the PG&E plant covered my voice and made me invisible.
*The memoirs Trista drew from were
Lost by Cheryl Strayed
Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavich
The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber
Lifesaving by Judith Barrington
Trista also highly recommended Writing Memoir by Judith Barrington for those of us delving into memoir.