Keeping memories


When I was five years old, we lived on Edith Street in El Paso, Texas. Most of the time when I walked out the door, I turned right. My best friend, Terry, lived in that direction and the road around that corner led to the convenience store where we bought candy bars, comic books, and the occasional cigarette. If I went bike riding or roller skating, I might turn left. Down the street in that direction, I would pass by two white ceramic ducks sitting in a neighbor’s yard.


The ducks sat there day after day watching me roll by until one day they got up and walked around. I remember it clear as day. It’s one of my special childhood memories that never happened. Yet the impossibility of it doesn’t stop me from remembering it.


Duck! Here comes the little dreamer.
Photo from


I spent most of childhood outside; we all did back then. But on Saturday morning, we stayed inside to watch cartoons. I spent hours watching that naughty putty tat Sylvester stalk Tweety Bird, Betty Boop sing and dance, Woody Woodpecker stir up trouble, and the Road Runner escape from Wile E. Coyote. For years afterward, I had fond but vague memories of a character called Daffy Fuddlebug. Only when I dragged it into the daylight and showed it to my sister did I realize I had conflated three characters (Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny) into one.



Memories are the artifacts of the lives I have lived: the small child, the lost teenager, the young woman, the wife, the mother, the teacher, the dreamer. Like one civilization built atop another, each life was built upon the one before; and hidden in each layer, the memories, quite a few still intact, their dates carefully stamped on the bottom; others of uncertain date but recognizable; and many, many broken shards, some still sharp and dangerous, others soft-edged from being buried so long. I have built a museum of words and images where I keep these memories.


Sometimes I go there and wander through the quiet rooms, trying to understand the history of my life, believing it will help me live a better life today and in my future. I see that I have mistaken dreams for memories; those early ones often look alike to me. And I have mislabeled a few; the details and faces obscured by time. I leave them as they are; my misremembering is as much a part of me as my remembering. Memories are not facts; they are part of the story we tell ourselves. They may not be real in the way we define facts; but like all good stories, they are true. So I do my best to remember them; and try as I might, I cannot let go of my fond but vague memory of Daffy Fuddlebug.




Words are like people. Some of them look alike because they come from the same parentage. Both “sanguine” and “sanguinary” are adjectives and were born from sanguis, Latin for blood. So, after learning that a sanguine person is cheerful or optimistic, you might run into the word “sanguinary” while reading a text, look at its ruddy face, and expect it to tell you a joke or recite an inspiring quote. Don’t be surprised if it pulls out a knife and threatens you. The only thing it’s cheerful about is bloodshed and cruelty.


Other words, like the nouns “desert” and “dessert” look so much alike, people can hardly tell the difference. If you look closely, you’ll see that “dessert” looks more curvaceous. It’s that extra “s” in the middle. They’re not related although both words have ancestors who came from the Latin. Other than that, the only similarity is that desert is a waste place, and dessert goes to a waist place.


The other day I ran into “twee” online. It was modifying a noun, music, and speaking in a colloquial accent telling everyone who would listen that the music was sickeningly sweet.  I’ve heard it say things like that before. It also has the remarkable ability to make bird sounds. You may have heard it imitate the wren by saying twee-twee-twee.


1916 cover (Wikipedia)


Twee in its original sense of sweet or dainty first appeared in print in the British magazine, Punch, around 1905. Someone heard a children pronouncing “sweet” as “tweet,” then took the word and dropped the “t.” It was the linguistic form of stealing candy from a baby. Now it disparages music and people by calling them mawkish or overly sentimental.


I like how the word sounds. Twee rhymes with glee and whee, words of enthusiasm and joy. I’ve heard birds chirp it, and I’ve had small children answer “Twee” when I asked their age. Elmer Fudd climbed twees looking for that wascally wabbit, Bugs Bunny. “Be vewy, vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits,” he used to say. Twee is a word that fits in your pocket, a small joke of a word, a word with punch.


When sister was twee, she stood front of a twee. You can almost hear the birds singing, "Twee, twee, twee."



Even though the masters of irony and sophistication have forced twee to make disparaging remarks about other people, I won’t abandon it. That’s just its corrupted twin. Elmer Fudd and I know the real twee, and any word that is a friend of birds, Elmer, and three-year-olds is a friend of mine.



Portrait of Elmer J. Fudd courtesy of Wikipedia.