Study Guide

Seedfolks Memory and the Past

By Paul Fleischman

Memory and the Past

I thought about how my mother and sisters remembered my father, how they knew his face from every angle and held in their fingers the feel of his hands. I had no such memories to cry over. I'd been born eight months after he'd died. Worse, he had no memories of me. (1.6)

Kim really wishes she had some memories of her dad. In fact, it sounds like she feels jealous of all the memories that her mom and sis have. Check out how Kim describes her mom's and sisters' memories as physical, as if they are "held in their fingers." Do other characters think of memories in a physical way?

My phone doesn't ring much, which suits me fine. That's how I got the news about our boy, shot dead like a dog in the street. And the world, last year, about my wife's car wreck. I can't hear a phone and not jerk inside. When Ana called I was still asleep. Phone calls that wake me up are the worst. (3.1)

For Wendell, memory is a totally physical thing. Every time a phone rings, he remembers the news that his son and wife have died. What does it tell us about memory that Wendell feels a "jerk inside"? What does he mean by that?

He couldn't read the words on the seed packets, but he knew from the pictures what seeds were inside. He poured them into his hand and smiled. He seemed to recognize them, like old friends. (4.9)

Gonzalo's great uncle, Tío Juan, definitely has some gardening memories. The thing is, Tío Juan isn't telling the story, so we don't get to hear all about these recollections. So Gonzalo takes his best guess about these memories, saying it's as if the seeds are "old friends." Pretty sweet, if you ask us.

I hadn't had a garden since I was a kid. I wanted one now, only this time I was seventy-eight to be exact, and in no condition to dig up the soil. (6.3)

Sam may not be the young kid he once was, but that doesn't mean he can't enjoy a slice of his past right there in the community garden. How do you think Sam's patch in the garden helps him connect to his childhood?

She had a serious thing for tomatoes. […] Always talking about eating 'em out of her aunt's garden when she was a kid and how she wanted to grow 'em someday. She probably thought I forgot all that. I planted 'em right there in front of her eyes, to show her I hadn't, that I was waiting for her. (9.4)

Okay, let's untangle this web of memories. First, we have Lateesha's memory: she likes to remember eating her aunt's tomatoes as a kid. Then we have Curtis's memory: he wants to show Lateesha that he can remember little details about her, like the tomato story. Who knew tomatoes were such powerful memory machines?

He twisted and pointed toward the garden. I turned the wheelchair and headed back. I could see his nostrils taking in the smell of the soil. We reached the lot. His arm commanded me to enter. Over the narrow, bumpy path we went, his nose and eyes working. Some remembered scent was pulling him. He was a salmon traveling upstream through his past. (10.3)

Nora can tell that Mr. Myles has some memories about gardening, but it's almost as if Mr. Myles doesn't have control over these memories. Why is this? Is he losing the memories? Or are they just super powerful?

I'd brought with me a dozen seed packets. Mr. Myles chose the flowers decisively, ignoring the vegetables. Was he recalling his mother's flower garden? His history was unknowable. (10.5)

You know, it's too bad we don't get to hear Mr. Myles' story from him. What do you think we might learn if we did?

When I saw the garden for the first time, so green among the dark brick buildings, I thought back to my parents' Persian rug. It showed climbing vines, rivers and waterfalls, grapes, flower beds, singing birds, everything a desert dweller might dream of. Those rugs were indeed portable gardens. In the summers in Delhi, so very hot, my sisters and I would lie upon it and try to press ourselves into its world. (12.2)

For Amir, the garden brings back a really distinct memory: his parents' Persian rug and his childhood memories of playing on it with his sisters. Amir used to dream of being in a cool garden during his hot summers, and now that memory has become a reality. Pretty neat.

We both planted carrots. When her hundreds of seedlings came up in a row, I was very surprised that she did not thin them—pulling out all but one healthy-looking plant each few inches, to give them room to grow. I asked her. She looked down at them and said she knew she ought to do it, but that this task reminded her too closely of her concentration camp, where the prisoners were inspected each morning and divided into two lines—the healthy to live and the others to die. Her father, an orchestra violinist, had spoken out against the Germans, which had caused her family's arrest. (12.5)

For Amir's Polish friend, gardening can bring back some really painful memories, since planting carrots makes her think of her experiences in a concentration camp. So instead of dwelling on these memories, the Polish woman chooses to avoid thinning out her plants. This way, she gets to fight against those awful memories. Plus, now she has a new friend to share her memories with as they grow carrots together. Look at that garden go.

I would have been in on the garden for sure if it weren't for this arthritis in my hands. Growing up in the country, I still miss country things. My husband's from here. He doesn't know about the smell of a hayfield and eating beans of the vine instead of from the store. I had to settle for being a watcher. (13.3)

Ah, the country life. It sounds like Florence really wishes she could re-experience those memories in the Gibb Street garden. Do you think being "a watcher" still allows Florence to connect with her past? Or is it not the same as actually gardening herself?