But this week, the common theme was playhouses. Two different clients, unknown to one another, one age 83 and the other 96, both referred to the playhouses they had as children.
Both of the clients were women. Though born more than a decade apart, both were of a generation where the expectation was that they would grow up to run households of their own, so “playing house” would have been a particularly natural and expected form of play. Still, it seemed coincidental to me that each one had an actual free-standing playhouse, devotedly handcrafted by either brothers or fathers from scrap lumber found nearby, and that each one lived in a house with a yard that could accommodate such a relative luxury. One of the women even included a photo of her playhouse in the memoir.
It sometimes seems that the more memoir projects I work on, the more ideas I have for how to guide people’s memories as they pull up pieces of their childhoods or young adult years. One question that always gets the wheels turning is to ask people to describe their childhood bedroom. Sometimes their descriptions have to do with the room’s location in the house – in the attic, perhaps, or next to the kitchen – and other times it focuses on wall color or décor. One client told me about the lineup of dolls she kept on her bed, rotating the line every single evening so that each doll would have a turn at the privilege of sleeping next to her. The story amused me, because of the idea that the dolls cared who lay closest to the sleeping girl, but when the same woman talked about her impatience to have children of her own as she waited for her husband to finish graduate school, I thought again about that line of dolls in her childhood bedroom.
All kinds of settings help to set the scene for episodes in memoirs. A grandmother’s kitchen; a father’s study; a favorite carrel in the college library; a cabin at summer camp. Or a playhouse, or a treehouse. Take some time to think about the special settings in your past, and see where the memory leads you next.