Remembering Through Writing

Surprisingly, Writing 220 is the class I write least in. I am in an art history course where we have short papers due weekly. I am in an upper level writing art history course where we literally turn in one paper and get the next assignment in the same motion. I am in another creative writing where I write poetry almost everyday. All of these courses challenge me to write in different ways, the familiar academic way in both art history classes, and new ways like in creative writing and Writing 220.

Being challenged to write in different ways has opened my eyes to what writing can do for me. With the repurposing project I can be direct and provocative. With my assignments in creative writing, I can look at the same things infinitely different ways. Sometimes I work through my challenges by creating images that clarify what I need to do. Those images tell me what it is and sometimes more importantly, what it is not. Sometimes I reconnect with the past. I can remember and I can look to the future. Sometimes I write a string of lines that make me feel so comforted I can fall asleep happy.

That happened to me when I was assigned to write a poem about a place I love. The first place that came to my mind was my Grampa’s house in East Aurora, New York. I grew up in that house, along with my sister and eight cousins. I spent all the major holidays there and random weekends that were equally major just because I was there. I could describe every detail of that house and provide a million stories about each room, but I won’t. In short, that house is where my family gathered and made our most cherished memories. It was more than a house, it was like feeling completely content with doing absolutely nothing. And I mean that, sometimes my cousins and I would all nap in the basement but I still remember those group naps fondly. We all loved that house as we loved each other, but Grampa got sick and had to sell the house. Today, new people live there and the windows we always kept open are always shut. I am torn between wanting to go back to get that feeling again but knowing that it won’t be the same. Grampa passed away and we’re left without the place and person who facilitated many of those memories. I wrote about missing the house, but the house is really him.

I realize that some parts won’t make sense to people outside my family because I reference inside jokes and family specifics. But writing this poem allowed me to go back in a way I never thought I
would be able to again. I will probably never be a poet and it doesn’t matter how “good” this poem is, it did something magical for me, like 307 Oakwood used to. Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 11.00.41 AM


To go to 307 Oakwood. What village road
to 307 Oakwood, if not every weekend, that Sunday
when the Bills played the Titans. The green
painted exterior and white trim,
an open bay window, looking into our little world,
a small needle hole. A porch swing which swings
back and forth through the days, months, years
of memories of 307 Oakwood. Cold in the fall,
colder in the winter, only in temperature,
like the first shiver from the first snow.
The long magnetic driveway that pulls
in warmth and family. A pull so enticing
a stranger walked in, turned away only because
there was no beer in his hands. A barn with a broken basketball hoop,
shoddily fixed with quarters stacked. A live wire
that stings, strung gazebo to barn. Outdated
familiar wallpaper surrounding
aging familiar faces. Well-worn furniture
facilitating group naps after eating too much. Lesser
but beautiful old houses flanking each side, 307
Oakwood stands apart, the first red leaf among green,
hearing your name in a crowd,
where family swings by
and stays for Hershey kisses. Cases of OV
and cases of orange pop kept cool
on the back porch. Inside, cheese and pepperoni pizza,
thoroughly baked, cut in squares.
Bags of pretzels, chips, and dip
poured into bowls, spilling onto our paper plates,
like freshly popped movie popcorn,
framed by tan whicker holders.
Roast beast, begun before we woke, filling
307 Oakwood with the inescapable scent
of beef and au jus, the way
the smell of pine stays on your clothes.
Too much horseradish, always too much horseradish.
A feast greater than the occasion, but
with us all occasions are greatly equal.
18 years of 307 Oakwood, many more
for many others, but many more
is still not enough. Not enough
mornings waking up to cinnamon toast,
caked perfectly with drippingly too much butter,
reading the newspaper, seeing that smile,
hearing that voice. The laugh that makes you cough, infectious.
Repeated jokes, no less funny, lining up
to get a hug that squeezed you but filled you with love.

The swing finally broke,
couldn’t support us one second longer.
307 Oakwood moved on
made changes, updated, surely more changes to come.
307 Oakwood is something else but
we are still right here.
The green and the white stay the same
but the window is closed, new memories being made
behind the needle hole made smaller.
To go to 307 Oakwood is not to go back. We loved
and took all there was, we gave
all that we were, constantly balancing Ovaltine filled past the brim.
In memory alone does 307 Oakwood
still exist, in memory alone
can we return. Fading, failing,
my imperfect memory betrays me. I can’t lose
all I have left. I can’t win more. But
if I ever knew 307 Oakwood, I know it’s newly giving,
to new people, what it gave to me.

Shannon Vail

I am a senior Art History major who thoroughly enjoys cooking, traveling, beagles and Buffalo sports.

One thought to “Remembering Through Writing”

  1. Seems like you have a pretty hefty workload going on. At least writing is something you (obviously) enjoy.
    I’m sorry about your grandpa. Poetry is always a nice way to work through tough emotions, though. On that note, I like your poem. It does what you wanted and needed it to, and that’s all you can really ask of any writing.

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