photograph by Sai de Silva

On Being the Memory Maker (also known as Mom)

Savala Nolan
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readJun 21, 2023

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I sometimes think of myself as the Primary Memory Maker. I’m speaking of myself as a mom, of course. Yes, my job is to keep my kid fundamentally safe in body, mind, and spirit, to help her build resilience and thoughtfulness, to help her learn the discernment, bravery, and vision we need to make good decisions, and to help her feel a core sense of bodily autonomy. But also to give her good memories.

What will she actually remember? Memory is unpredictable, fallible, and enigmatic. A hundred thousand things happen every day, and I only retain the mental image and meaning of a handful. A hundred thousand things happen in my daughter’s day, yet she only tells me about some of them — presumably the ones she’s still thinking about (remembering) after school. Who knows how many of these snippets — so-and-so spilled their milk at lunch; he fell during P.E.; she brought a crystal for show-and-tell — she’ll remember in a year, or forty years. Maybe none of them.

Here are some of my key (positive) childhood memories. Which is to say, some of the most vivid, happy, and formative ones. Ones I return to and think of often:

  • playing make-believe in the long, flat patchworks of our flower garden while my mom watered after work, the green hose and clear water making arcs above the nasturtium, below the apple trees;
  • clutch football games in the 49ers’ Montana-Rice heyday, red-and-gold everywhere, the players’ greatness making champions of us all, and all of us gathered together on chilly Sundays;
  • listening to music on the drive to school, and listening to the same cassettes so often that, by osmosis I suppose, I feel I’ve always known Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, John Coltrane’s Ballads, Aretha Franklin’s greatest hits, and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony by heart;
  • the Christmas Eve service at my granddad’s church in San Francisco, the dark cold sky beyond the stone walls, the captivating glow of a candle in my small hand, and awe-striking glow of a hundred candles around me, and on the drive home the cascading notes of my granddad’s baritone singing glooooooria…; and
  • dinner on the stove — fried chicken in a deep, black, cast iron skillet; steamed broccoli in the old silver steamer; soft, salty Bisquick dumplings in a…

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Savala Nolan
Human Parts

uc berkeley law professor and essayist @ vogue, time, harper’s, NYT, NPR, and more | Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins | she/her | IG @notquitebeyonce