Have you ever wondered why we remember some stories so well that they somehow become a part of us? What combination of factors causes this to happen? What elements cause the essence, or particular details of a story, to pop into our consciousness years after we’ve read it? Could it be solely ascribed to the skill of the author, or could it be compared to a sort of biochemical reaction?
Such a story is just there in our memory, and it doesn’t go away. My brother-in-law, who is an M.D., recently remarked that such long-term memory is “indelibly etched” in our mammillary bodies: two small, round structures on either side of the base of the brain. One fascinating, mysterious aspect of all this is that the process seems rather subjective- a story that finds a niche in my memory may not appeal to you at all!
However, I would like to tell you about a story that somehow found a permanent home in my memory banks: “His Son, In His Arms, In Light, Aloft” by Harold Brodkey. The author describes, in a richly detailed, multisensory manner, a childhood memory of being joyfully hoisted into the air by his father. One word that comes to mind in trying to portray this story is the word “synesthesia,” because the experience that Brodkey so artfully conveys seems a blending of the senses.
Having read Brodkey’s story years ago, I stored away, at least for me, what I felt to be it’s essence. I read the story again recently (after all these years) and came face-to-face with the complexity of the writing. A young boy’s experience, though written in an immersive manner, also contains an adult perspective. There is a palpable sense of ambiguity. The father who inspired awe and transcendence, is also remembered as moody and unpredictable; as somehow being a source of doubt and instability.
It is important to note that, following the death of his mother, Harold Brodkey was given up for adoption at the age of two. Some accounts state he didn’t speak for two years after that. He was subsequently raised by the family of his mother’s cousin, in University City, Missouri.
Harold Brodkey died of AIDS in 1996. He once described his biological father as “illiterate, a junkman, and a semi-professional prizefighter.” The last few lines of Brodkey’s story, illuminate a father’s face, “caught” in a certain light “…In an accidental glory.”
“His Son, In His Arms, In Light, Aloft” is from “Stories In An Almost Classical Mode” by Harold Brodkey.
-By Carey Chaney, Library Assistant, Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Public Library