Of Time and Memory: A Mother's Story

Of Time and Memory: A Mother's Story

4.7 4
by Don J. Snyder, Brian Keeler, Richard Poe

View All Available Formats & Editions

Don Snyder's mother died when he was sixteen days old. It was the summer of 1960 and she was barely nineteen years old. Left behind when his beloved wife died, Snyder's father was heartbroken and buried his memories of his wife with her body, choosing never to discuss her with his sons.

Almost fifty years later, as his father's health was failing, Snyder decided it

…  See more details below


Don Snyder's mother died when he was sixteen days old. It was the summer of 1960 and she was barely nineteen years old. Left behind when his beloved wife died, Snyder's father was heartbroken and buried his memories of his wife with her body, choosing never to discuss her with his sons.

Almost fifty years later, as his father's health was failing, Snyder decided it was time to discover the love story he never knew. The result of his search is Of Time and Memory—a memoir of Peggy Schwartz, a beautiful, intensely private woman who chose to carry her pregnancy to term and conceal her eventually fatal toxemia from the husband she loved in order to give life to her twin sons. As he travels back in time, Snyder rediscovers the love that existed between his parents and in many ways reunites his once shattered family: father and mother, husband and wife, mother and son.

About the Author:
Don J. Snyder lives in Maine with his wife and their four children.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Of Time and Memory reads like a mystery story and it is that suspense, coupled with Snyder's honest prose, that is most engaging. The New York Times Book Review A compelling memoir…Snyder is able to maintain an emotional distance that brings [his mother] to life as she truly was: young, passionate, flawed, insecure, and ultimately full of hope.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As a child, Snyder intuited that he was not to probe his father about the past--"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 story--of 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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
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.--Joyce Sparrow, St. Petersburg Lib., FL Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Part romance, part detective story, part heartrending family drama, this stirring, fluidly written memoir chronicles the author's quest to finally learn what happened to his mom, Peggy who died at 19 when he and his twin brother were 16 days old.

Entertainment Weekly

Kirkus Reviews
A son's loving and determined quest to discover the mother he never knew—the young woman who died, at 19, shortly after giving birth to her twin sons. Beyond these harsh and tragic facts, Peggy remained a mystery to novelist and memoirist Snyder (The Cliff Walk: A Memoir of a Lost Job and a Found Life, 1997, etc.) for nearly 50 years. Then, coming to terms with his father's rapidly declining health and powers of memory, Snyder was gripped with an overpowering need to understand who his mother was. From photographs, conversations with relatives and friends, and some genuine detective work, this volume was born. It's Snyder's gift to his ailing father, to his mother (the girl his father loved), and to all people "in love, or out of it, or trying to stay in love" with the person they have pledged themselves to. It is, ultimately, a gift to himself—an urgent reminder of the need to cherish his own family. Re-creating one parent's love story and discovering the inner life of a 19-year-old woman one never knew can be an intimidating task in the best of circumstances. Snyder faced additional obstacles. Peggy kept her feelings to herself, shared her father's dark moods, and died of uncertain causes. By dint of careful research and plain good luck, Snyder discovers the true cause of his mother's death—preeclampsia—and her fatal sacrifice in delivering her babies. By entering into his mother's world with the eye of a writer and the determination of a man possessed, Snyder discovers the vulnerable young woman who found unquestioned love with his father. Of Time and Memory is not so much a biography as a "story." One has to suspend disbelief when the narrative re-createsscenes that the author could only have invented, but then imagination must play a role in telling any love story. At his best, Snyder offers poignant glimpses into everyday family situations, reminding us of the love present in our own lives. A bittersweet story.

Read More

Product Details

Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date:
Edition description:

Read an Excerpt

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 theblue 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.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >