As I was sitting on the couch yesterday morning, in pjs, drinking tea -- a half an hour before I needed to be somewhere it takes me twenty minutes to drive to -- it occurred to me that I have inherited this particular habit.
When I first picked up Diana Taylor's wonderful book The Archive and the Repertoire, the idea that we perform acts of memory everyday in our speech, our silences, our habits and ways of being in the world was new to me. It kind of blew me away. I think she actually talks about looking in the mirror and seeing her mom looking in the mirror in the introduction.
When I ask, "How's by you?" I am performing memory. I never ask anyone who is not in my immediate family this, but my association of the phrase with my mother and her mother and aunties -- five first generation Polish-American women -- comforts me somehow. I usually ask the cat, though a. he cannot answer and b. how's by him is pretty much the same as it is for me, since we live in the same place. Never you mind that the etymology of the phrase is Yiddish and I have no idea why my mom's family adopted it. Maybe it was my German/Irish grandfather's. I've adopted it to signify what I want it to -- probably changing the meaning and original purpose of the utterance. Oh well --- memory is fluid, flexible and open to adjustments.
We all think about food as memory and traditions of other kinds as well. But isn't it fascinating, and maybe just a little freeing, to consider your nervous ticks, procrastination and avoidance tactics, the armor you grab for whenever you get in an argument, etc. performances of memory as well? Doesn't it make you want to understand what attitudes and behaviors are yours and yours alone, and which ones are inheritances?
I've become more inclined to make hospital corners the way my mom taught me, to follow a particular choreography in the kitchen, to find it funny and oddly lovely that I hoard cans of tomato sauce and stockpile condiments just like my dad does. It is still neurotic, but as a performance of neurotic memory, it makes it a little more OK.