Duck, Duck, Memory

When I was a girl, I had a tiny, yellow, glass duck—no bigger than a button or acorn. Even though I adored it, I used to repeatedly throw it to the ground. I wasn’t angry, just thought it was too small to break. The idea of indestructibility was intoxicating to a four-year-old.

I remember when the neck snapped off, I was so shocked that I instantly put the shard between my lips. I think I wanted to keep it safe or somehow absorb the violence. Even as children, we learn to swallow our grief. Even now, I can still feel the glass against my teeth, the stinging sensation of loss.

 duck

In my mental museum, I am always curating and arranging memories such as these. I rifle through the objects on display, group them by categories: hate, love, fear, desire, grief.

The little duck rests on a mental shelf marked “First Mourning.” Personal Artifact. Circa 1989.

There are various other shelves, as well:

  • “Dress I Wore the Day You Left”
  • “Apology Note”
  • “The Book He Forgot and thus Never Read (Jerk)”

I’m not sure how to label the scar on my left ankle where a shard of glass coasted, like a meteor, into bone. It’s a painful memory, more psychologically than physically.  Maybe scars are simply artifacts we can’t throw away. So it stays. And yet, even this ugly memory feels important. It too seems to demand display, recognition.

I came across the resource below and was instantly mesmerized. Particularly, in a classroom setting and as a companion project to Sobelle’s The Object Lesson, this website serves as a promising first exploration of memory. Both accessible and non-threatening, “The Museum of Important Shit,“might help students unpack memories through object with a sense of shared community. In this virtual gallery, the structure of “tags” allows you to browse through personal artifacts and peruse stories by label. The tiny narratives range from significant to mundane, from quirky to heartbreaking, from acts of kindness to projections of alter egos. It seems like this approach could function easily as a class project to begin categorizing objects and allowing others to bear witness to the display. If you try this out in your classroom, I’d love to hear your experiences, stories, and reactions. In the meantime, I’ll still be curating my memory museum, deciding what to toss and what to keep.

We glued the neck back on that duck and I learned a thing or two about fragility that day in 1989. If you look closely at the picture, you can still see the crack rimming the porcelain neck like a pale scar.

3 Comments

  • blust commented on August 14, 2015 Reply

    I love the idea of students creating their own personal “museums” of objects. At the beginning of the year, I have had students put together museums of themselves as writers and then do a “walk” to see what other people chose to do.

  • blust commented on August 14, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for sharing! This was really interesting. I love the description of your visceral reaction to loss as a child.

  • Amy Greenberg commented on August 23, 2015 Reply

    You are an internet sleuth, Joy! I love this idea

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