The origin of the word ‘souvenir’

I removed all evidence of Halloween except for the jolly jack o’ lantern with the little electric light. It had no amount of malice, like a kid’s happy face before they’ve learned how to sneer. I left the large plastic bat in the closet to startle someone; it’s motion-activated with the sound of screams and doors slapping shut, the occasional howl. Still I realized that this is the first year the kids didn’t want or need our company on Halloween, so Dawn and I just stayed home watching TV, tracking their geo-location with our phones.

The vague light of morning now in shades of blue, yellow and gray. The dog sniffing shrubs, indexing scents. Putting Halloween back in the same spot next to Christmas and Easter in the garage. Trotting out some November-looking arrangements with fake apples and pumpkins. Doing what I can to make it feel warm.

I stood in the kitchen eating the last of the split pea soup cold, cradling the heavy pot in the crook of my arm like an infant. There was nothing left to do. I was down to the tertiary tasks of the house, trying to get out old carpet stains, swapping out table linens. I’ve been on call to start a new gig for about two months, my energy and attention now reaching the end.

I went back up the PCT to the point on the trail where I had to turn back earlier in the week. A waterfall high above had pooled and partially frozen over the trail with a messy overhang if I slipped and fell. I returned with my micro-spikes and carefully crossed to the other side, then a few miles higher still, in and out of the forest, filtering out the mental debris. I’d dreamt I was addressing a small audience on what it’s like to write memoir (no surprise, small audience). What it takes, why it feels fruitless at times. Still it was my voice I could hear in the dream, and that alone made me feel real. It’s like breathing life into a figurine, giving it three dimensions and depth. But when that figurine is also you and you’re unable to make it come to life, it’s hard to separate feeling the same way about yourself.

Dropping Charlotte off for school and watching how she ambles across the parking lot with her backpack, looking a bit clumsy. Watching her and a friend outside in the driveway, young enough they still play sometimes. The sound of her voice so small behind the text messages she sends.

I got to the end of the book, 700 pages, but the author didn’t resolve the themes he’d laid out. He drew me in, but didn’t tie things off…and that left me feeling cheated or dumb, neither of which feels good. And I see that in my own writing, but pass it off as ‘exploratory,’ a record of the days, small tokens to remember.

Like the day after Halloween in Scotland we took that hike up to the falls by Loch Ness. Or Remembrance Day there, buying a red poppy from someone on the street, a pin you could wear on your lapel. Pocketing it instead, pretending I could steal the past if I stowed it somewhere safe, like a pathway to a forgotten time.

Maybe that’s what the French meant by the word souvenir, to come to mind, to remember. A collection of curious objects known only to me.

Categories: writing

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18 replies

  1. I like the meaning of the word and all that goes with that

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You prompted me to look up souvenir in French. Didn’t realize the word is a verb in the infinitive – to remember, to commemorate. It’s weird to think how language changes how you think.

    Diggin the familiar themes here, and relating. Keep on geo-trackin (in the free world).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Autumn seems to bring on thoughts of collections, albums, gathering up, putting away. Curating your own personal museum of objects/memories that are meaningful only to you, sure I get that. I also like this word and all that goes with it, except for actually spelling it correctly, which apparently isn’t going to happen for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never considered the connection between the ideas of souvenir and memoir (both of which I copy and pasted ’cause I can’t spell worth a damn), or even continuing on with diary and/or blog. But really, I suppose a blog is the ultimate souvenir, a keepsake of life’s memories, pictures, and adventures. And like any souvenir, its impact is probably stronger for the owner than the small audience looking on.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Wearing the poppy seems restricted to Commonwealth countries, and it’s too bad, because it’s a lovely, non-nationalistic symbol. This week at school, I saw a young German boy wearing one and thought, “Well, yes.”
    What book?

    Liked by 1 person

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