We are learning that memoir is the story of a moment– a moment that begins with a scrap of memory. My memoir begins with a scrap of green fabric with a tiny white design.
We arrived in Cairo in June, just days before I turned ten. Through that first summer, we would often walk after dinner to what my father called “The Biggest Sandbox in the World:” The Sahara Desert. We walked past a large yellow building that stood among palm trees behind black and gold iron gates. It had been a palace. It was now a school. It would be my school. I was told the bathroom faucets were made of gold.
Summer made its slow sultry way toward September. My mother told me that Alice, an Egyptian seamstress, was making my dress for the first day of school. It would be a surprise.
On that final night of summer I went to bed knowing I would wake to a new school in an old palace; to new friends; to faucets made of gold; and to a new dress.
I awoke to the familiar smell of my parents’ coffee. There is was. Draped over the chair in the corner of my room, I saw my new dress. It was made of emerald green fabric with a tiny white design. I leapt up, and then my heart sank. The tiny white design? Tiny white hieroglyphics. My dress looked like a souvenir. My mother came in, her eyes bright with excitement over this surprise, “You are going to look just darling in this dress!”
I knew there was only one thing to do.“Thanks, Mom. I love it,” I said quietly. I put on the dress and hoped for the best.
“Wait, Sweetheart! There’s more.”
She handed me a brown bag with my school supplies. I reached in and pulled out text books that were covered in fabric. Green fabric. Green fabric with a tiny white design. Hieroglyphics. I was mortified.
If anyone noticed that my books matched my dress on that first day, they were kind enough not to say anything about it. And if my mom noticed that I only wore that dress once, she never said anything. I made lots of friends. And there really were faucets made of gold in pink alabaster bathrooms.
George Eliot said, “The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand…” What she doesn’t say is that some golden moments call us back and give us a second chance. When we write a memoir, the story of a moment, sand spins itself back into gold.