Cover image for Of time and memory : a mother's story
Of time and memory : a mother's story
Snyder, Don J.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1999.
Physical Description:
287 pages ; 23 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


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PS3569.N86 Z469 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Don Snyder was sixteen days old when his mother died in a small Pennsylvania town in the summer of 1950. She was a girl of nineteen. In order to survive the heartbreak of her death, those who loved her best kept the memories of her hidden away, and Don grew up knowing nothing about her. Almost half a century later, with his father's health failing, Don set out to discover who his mother was and how she had loved his father, so that Don might return to his father now, at the end of his life, the unremembered love story from his youth. This book, which more than equals the power and the feeling of his much admired memoir,The Cliff Walk, is the story of his journey. It is a journey that carried him deep into the lives of the people who had known his mother--her closest friends from high school, her childhood teachers, the elderly women who had been her bridesmaids. It brought him to the apartment she had shared with her adored young husband, to the hospital of his own birth, to the stunning secret of his mother's death--and ultimately it gave back to him the lost world, voice, and being of this young woman who had given him life.

Author Notes

Don J. Snyder is the author of "The Cliff Walk", "Of Time and Memory", "A Soldier's Disgrace", "From the Point" and "Veteran's Park".

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The search for your mom is more complicated than usual when she died at 19 two weeks after you and your twin were born. Using the recollections of his mother's girlfriends and coworkers, Snyder painfully and tenderly reconstructs the life of the parent he never knew and about whom his father never spoke.

Publisher's Weekly Review

As a child, Snyder intuited that he was not to probe his father about the pastÄ"a place where the hearse was parked." In this engrossing account of his attempt, at age 47, to piece together the life story of his mother, Peggy, by talking to her family, friends and neighbors, Snyder admits it was "preposterous" that he and his twin brother had never asked certain questions about her or the circumstances of her sudden death, at 19, days after their birth in rural Pennsylvania. He had known nothing of his parents' love storyÄof the veteran and the prettiest girl in Hatfield, Pa., or of their honeymoon in Manhattan in 1949, 10 months before Peggy died. Snyder, the author of two novels, a biography and a previous memoir, The Cliff Walk, found that his curiosity about Peggy assumed an urgency when he was visiting his ailing father, now a retired minister, in 1997. He unflinchingly plumbs his family's "unremembering," born of a grief so profound it begs the question of complicity in the death of Peggy's memory. This memoir of his discovery process braids earnest, if effusive, ruminations with novelistic passages in which Snyder steps into his mother's consciousness to narrate her story. Some readers may find this fictional approach less an act of devotion than a strange appropriation of her life, since she is not present to forgive errors of fact or omission. But Snyder's painstaking evocation of his emotional odyssey in search of a young woman with extraordinary courage will resonate with most readers. Agent, Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This memoir, which reads like an intriguing love story, details one man's attempt to find out about the woman who died 16 days after giving birth to him and his twin brother in August 1950. As a five-year-old, Snyder saw his parents' wedding photograph as it fell from his father's wallet and wanted to know who the woman was. Here he exerts exhaustive efforts to examine medical records, visit old family friends, and locate medical personnel who were present at the birth to find out why his mother died. Apparently, the family's devout faith was a factor in the mother's decision to carry the twins full term, without regard for her own health. Snyder's father was so devastated by her death that he could not relive memories of her with his sons; it is amazing to read how the philosophy of not telling the children too many details damaged the entire family. Readers have to admire Snyder's determination as he unfolds his parents' courtship and brief marriage: he uncovers all the medical details and even gets his ailing father to unveil the wedding album. This sensitive, spellbinding memoir will be appreciated by a wide audience; recommended for public libraries.ÄJoyce Sparrow, St. Petersburg Lib., FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Chapter One Someday, if we live long enough, we will tell our love stories to a stranger from down the hall, inventing what we must to explain the rush of time and the uncertainty of our place in this world. By then we will have forgotten what we once simply chose not to remember--the slamming door, an angry glance from across the room, the cutting blade of a sentence--and in the telling of our stories we will see again, or for the first time, how blessed our hearts were to have loved at all. But who will tell our love story when it outlives us? Or when it drifts beyond the reach of memory? Who will see you under starlight laying your head upon his shoulder? Who will watch you leading a child through the snow or dipping a new baby's feet into the sea? And what if we outlive our love story? Who will hold our old dreams up into the light at dawn again or remind you of the afternoon when you took a daughter into the city to buy her first ballet shoes? And who will rescue us from the deep, perplexing loneliness of life? If I see her leaning on her cane, I will remind her how she used to take the front stairs two at a time to reach their bedroom, to take her place beside him. Find the blond-haired boy whose father taught him to throw a football. Summon the friend she drove through the night to sit with and persuade of his worthiness. And if the tree that held the tire swing is gone, even if they've erected a bank teller machine where it stood, stay there a moment anyway, and remember her showing you how to pump your legs and fly above her head. Let someone dream us all back to life someday. Back to the blue kitchen where you rolled out your pie crust. Back to the fireplace you lit at dusk against the autumn chill. Back to the roof you hammered down in a thunderstorm when lightning raced along the heads of the nails. I have been dreaming my mother back this way, going back across the years that lay between us to run my hands over her love story. It is a story that was buried with her in the August heat of Pennsylvania in 1950, sixteen days after she gave birth to me and my twin brother. She was nineteen years old, and until last year I never knew anything about her, where she was buried, who her friends were, how she had died, what it was she stood for. I began searching for her because my father, her husband of less than ten months, is an old man facing his own end. Let me say that for fifty years of his life the pain of missing her prevented him from remembering. And now that he would like to recall her, would like to tell me about her, the tumor in his brain precludes this. It seems preposterous to me now that I would live almost fifty years after my mother died and still know nothing about her. But this story I am telling here, her love story with my father, could never be told by anyone but me because it was never remembered. Because it was too exquisite in its beginning, too terrible in its end, and the time between the beginning and the end was too brief, it had to be forgotten then. Or, let me say it more precisely, it had to be unremembered. That is it then--an unremembered love story, true in every aspect, preserved behind the heavy door that was closed against the sadness of its end. I am telling her story now for my father, an old man who was the boy who loved her. And for her, the girl who was my mother. And for you if you are in love, or out of it, or trying to stay in love with the person you have pledged yourself to. Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story, that it lies behind us like a shadow, waiting only for us to turn and face it. And in facing it, face ourselves, perhaps. It was a slow turn on my part. And it began on a winter night in Maine. I was up late with a sick child who, in her fever, kept asking me for a doll that I had not seen in years. Our children's desires so often oppose our own; because she had awakened me from a deep sleep and because I had to be up early the next morning, I wanted to make this middle-of-the-night dance a quick fox-trot, but in my daughter's clear, wide eyes I could see that what she wanted was a slow waltz. For a while I tried to placate her--a glass of juice, a Popsicle she could take back to bed with her. Nothing worked. Finally, I wrapped her in a comforter and carried her up the attic stairs. As we searched beneath the eaves I felt the heat of her fever through the blanket, and when the only dolls we found were no better than distant relatives of the one she missed so hopelessly, she began to cry. A soft cry of plain disappointment. "Please don't wake your brother and sisters," I whispered to her. On the attic floor next to the Christmas-tree stand, which still had a few green needles in its cup, there was a pair of black leather boots worn by her oldest sister, then the middle one, and now waiting for this daughter to step into them. Boxes everywhere. When we opened the one closest to us a photograph fell to the floor. I shined the flashlight on it, an old black-and-white picture of a wedding couple sitting in the back seat of their honeymoon car. My father had sent it to me at Christmas in a box of presents for the children. This year the gifts astonished us, so mismatched were they to the growing children in our midst: a golf club a foot too short for Jack, a dress that would have fit Erin two years earlier when my father last beheld her. My father's purchases spoke of the great distance and the long spaces between visits that separated me from him. There was that troubling distance and the thievery of time. On the back of the wedding picture my father had written in the child's cursive that had marked his letters since a brain tumor began to steal his faculties--November 1949, Peggy and me. I watched my daughter take the photograph in her hand. It stopped her crying as she held it to the light. Then she pressed it against my cheek. "It's Granddad," I said. "That's your grandfather when he was a boy." A gust of wind raced along the roof above our heads. There is always one child who drives a harder bargain than the others, whose mouth is forever filled with questions and who charges through the world past flustered grownups. She wanted to know who the pretty girl in the wedding car was. "My mommy," I said. She looked back at the picture as I described for her how this girl used to visit me when I was a little boy. I would awaken from my sleep to the sound of someone calling my name. It was always only the faint whisper of a voice calling me, and always calling me by my first and middle names, the way no one else ever addressed me, and when I opened my eyes there was always the same bright, smiling face with the shining gold ringlets of hair, gliding across my bedroom on top of a column of white light. It was just an old picture in the attic, a lowly assertion of my daughter's history, and we might have gone downstairs then, leaving it behind, but Cara kept it in her hand. I forgot about it until later that week when it turned up on the table in the kitchen where we keep the unpaid bills, the schools' lunch menus, and the telephone directory. I was looking down at the photograph when my brother called me from his home in southern New Hampshire. He had just returned from Pennsylvania where he spent a day with my father and found him to be confused and going blind. "I wouldn't expect him to live more than another year," he said. My brother is not given to exaggeration and so I took what he said to heart. I'd hung up the telephone, when I caught myself turning over the photograph to my father's written words on the back: November 1949, Peggy and me. Excerpted from Of Time and Memory: A Mother's Story by Don J. Snyder All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.