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The Memory Combination: An Essay from Collabrative Works of Daniel L. Shacter, Scott Russell Sanders, and Loren Eiseley

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The Memory Combination

I find a lot of truth in the crazy Marcel Proust's theories on memories that Daniel L. Schacter, the author of Building Memories: Encoding and Retrieving the Present and the Past had included in his essay. Proust was considered crazy because of his obsession with memory and his decision to restrict himself from society for 15 years in order to write about personal recollections and the nature of memory (Schacter 173). I value Proust's ideas because he took so much time to look deep into his own mind and memory, even if it was only one mans opinion versus a researched explanation. In this time, Proust discovers that memories can be both fragile and powerful to understanding oneself, especially when evoked by tastes and smells (174). From that experience, he implies remembering depends on combining information from the present and the past (175). I feel without the connection of information from the past and the present joined with the connection of the senses would make it nearly impossible to remember anything and learn anything about ourselves. To further examine this I will analyze the essays Inheritance of Tools by Scott Russell Sanders and Brown Wasps, by Loren Eiseley.

Sanders starts off his essay by telling us a story of hitting his thumb with a hammer. From this encounter, including the recent news of his father's death, a flood of memories of his father and grandfather come into play. Sander reflects, "It took the better part of a year for the scar to disappear, and every time I noticed it I thought of my father" (143).

The touch of the hammer and other tools evokes emotions of generations who passed down these tools to him. Talking about the handle of the hammer, Sanders relates, "The grain in hickory is crooked and knotty, and therefore tough, hard to split, like the grain in the two men who owned this hammer before me" (143). He explains how the used handle shows the hard work the men before him put into their work for their families and neighbors, constantly expanding and improving. As a result, every time he touched one of these tools, especially his hammer, he would recollect the occasions his father first taught him how to use them. For this reason he felt closer to his father when working by him, an intimate feeling of security.

At the same time, the love Sanders has for his tools carries on to his love of the smell of wood and sawdust. Naturally, the wood signifies his father's presence during his childhood. Sanders recollects, "As the saw teeth bit down the wood released its smell, each kind with its own fragrance, oak or walnut or cherry or pine..." (145). While watching his own children play around with the same materials, as a result, he reminisces about his own childhood. Sanders reveals, "I have seen my apprenticeship to wood and tools reenacted in each of my children, as my father saw his own apprenticeship renewed in me" (145).

Shortly after agonizing his way to put up a wall for his daughter's bedroom, they discover her hamsters have escaped from their cage and went behind the wall through the vent. Sanders investigating the wall, tried to find an imperfect place to break in if he had to. He realized he couldn't find the slightest imperfection and everything fit perfectly. Luckily they lured the hamsters out with food instead of having to break down the wall. Sanders states, " The knowledge of these things resides in my hands and eyes and the web work of muscles, not in the tools" (147). He gained this knowledge from his father, and seeing that perfect wall reminded him of those experiences, not the tools themselves. On the morning he smashed his thumb with the hammer and the morning that his father died, Sanders remembered, "I was thinking of my father, as I always did whenever I built anything, thinking how he would have gone about the work, hearing in memory what he would have said about the wisdom of hitting the nail instead of my thumb" (147). Even though he hit his thumb, he still created a perfect wall; he knew he made his father proud. The perfect wall on an imperfect day shows that he doesn't need his father anymore, and he can let go of the pain of his father's death and remember everything his father has taught him.

As we already know, Sanders awakens his memories of his father by using tools and constructing out of wood. Yet, our next author, Eiseley revives his memories of a nonexistent cottonwood tree, a place that his father and him shared, when he sees destruction of other creature's homes. Eiseley evaluates, "So I had come home at last, driven by a memory in the brain as surely as the field mouse who had delved long ago into my flower pot of the pigeons flying forever amidst the rattle of nut-vending machines" (155).

Without a place to call our own, the place of our being, then nothingness takes over and we have nothing to live for in the moment. Eiseley ponders, "You hold till the last, even if it is only to a public seat in a railroad station...It is the place that matters, the place at the heart of things" (151). Eiseley sees a group of abandoned old homeless people who clutch onto benches in which they sleep, trying to escape the cold weather. As an aftereffect he remembers seeing old brown wasps crawling over a deserted wasp nest. In a similar way, the brown wasps and the old people live parallel lives. He takes what he remembered seeing, the brown wasps, and relates it to the present, the old people to understand their position in life better. One at a time, lacking a place to belong to, as the temperatures drop, the wasps die and occasionally the people die to.

When Eiseley sees other creatures losing the places that mean the most to them, he identifies with them when he imagines his own place. First he reads a sign that a store will develop over a particular field. He thinks about all the creatures that will die in its destruction and notices a distinct mouse taking refuge. Curiously, when he comes home he finds his plants dug into, probably by the same mouse trying to restore his home. Eiseley writes, "I have spent a large portion of my life in the shade of a non-existent tree, I think I am entitled to speak for the field mouse" (151). He understands how the mouse tries to recreate his own space, for he constantly tries to recreate his own place in his thoughts of the past and make sense of them in the present.

Thinking back several years, Eiseley remembers a subway system taking the place of a broken down elevated railway (153). The railway served as a feeding ground for pigeons, as they waited around for a person to drop a morsel of food they got from nut vending machines (153). The desolate railway confused the pigeons,



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