Dealing With the Emergence of Memories

Some years ago while conducting a writing workshop demonstration, with a group of Grade 4 writers a young writer suddenly burst out in the middle of the 'tuning in' phase of the lesson, 'Wow, I just realized there's a hole in our laundry wall and its been there for about three years and I don't know how it got there!' 

There was a pause, then laughter slowly bubbled up within the group.  The writer apologized for her unannounced declaration, so I asked, Why do you think that memory suddenly came up like that? What sparked it? She wasn't sure what had summoned up the hole in the wall right at that point in our lesson. I urged her to continue thinking and maybe consider it as a writing prompt in the hope the memory recall might lead to something more substantial.

Sometimes our recollections are prompted by a word trigger. A connection is made and the mind kicks into overdrive in dredging up the memory -be it false, accurate or incomplete. Such spontaneity is common. We all experience these moments from time to time. 

An idea, a thought descends upon our consciousness with lightning speed and we are suddenly consumed by that unexpected interruption. We allow it walk freely about in our minds as we ponder -where did that just come from?

On the weekend while watching a documentary on restoring old machinery, I suddenly recalled an old steamroller that once stood on a vacant block of land for many years, three doors up from our house. It flashed up so clearly and I began to recall a myriad of associated childhood memories. While it had been many decades since I last had any recollection of that massive machine,  I immediately knew how that young writer felt recalling the hole in the laundry wall.

 I allowed this returning memory to grow like an ember fanned by a sudden breeze.  On Monday, after percolating for a couple of days, a narrative poem with a full head of steam came rushing out across the fresh pages of my notebook. Memories are lost if we don't listen to them when they come calling...


It was there from day one

A steel behemoth

How did it land there?

We found it standing silently

-A vacant corner block

Not far from the school

A steamroller

A roadmaking relic

Propped plumb in the middle of that block

The block everyone in town

Called- Severino’s Block

A dinosaur of a machine

Well and truly out of steam

merely a curiosity upon which local children climb 

And clamber over its huge frame

As toddlers assail a kindly uncle

The echoes of children’s laughter 

Surround the accommodating giant

It morphs into an imagination machine

With a view of the surrounding houses

The football ground

Cars going by.

Instantly reimagined 

By space angels, dragons and warrior kings

As a pirate ship

A rocket, ready for launching

A command outpost, 

Where from the bridge

The leader stands boldly

Unfussed by scampering minions below

And then at other times

A teenage hangout

Where conversations and cigarettes are exchanged

Secrets of little consequence revealed.

Overtime its green paint, flaked and faded

Blackberries sprung up around it

The relentless rust spread across its body

Decreasing its appeal

And the kids grew

Moved on, lost sight of it

The steamroller stood its ground

A brutal, steel monument to the passing of time.

And then,

One day it was gone and Severino’s Block

Lost its identifying marks

Becoming merely another block of land...

Did the steamroller

Roll down a hill,

Crash from a clifftop

Like Ted Hughes’s Iron Man?

Its parts separated, scattered.

Did it move on to a steamroller sanctuary?

Graceful in retirement

If someone knows, they are holding onto a steamrolling secret

The legend rolls on…

©Alan j Wright

A steamroller similar to the one that disappeared all those years ago



  1. I love how your own lost memory made you think of a student.

    1. Thank you Jess. Across the years my teaching and perspectives on life have received many invaluable contributions from the children it has been my privilege to meet. The opportunity to acknowledge them is not to be wasted.

  2. I think that as we get older, the file cabinets in our brains keep multiplying and filling up with more memories like these. I got wrapped up in the imagery of your poem, could see the neighborhood kids at their ages and stages--and felt wistful with you at the end.

    1. I like your filing cabinet analogy Chris. My actual filing cabinet is somewhat similar. It helps explain the randomness of these 'rememberings.' Glad you felt a connection with my poem.

  3. When we lose the landmarks of childhood, we often lose parts of ourselves as well. So pleased to see that it is obviously not the case here. Love all of the ways an old piece of machinery cranked up the imagination again and again.

    1. Thank you Karen for your reassuring words. The landmarks of childhood indeed...


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