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I can get homesick for a memory, not a place.
Does that sound strange?
Homesickness is fairly rare for me anymore. It happens mostly in spring, when I know that North Carolina is turning green and blossoming while Colorado is still buried under a winter shroud.
But sometimes, it is triggered by a visual, like it was this morning. The bus stopped at one of its usual stops on Hwy. 287, and across the street, a Mo-Po-Po (translation: a police officer on a really cool Harley) was giving some poor guy a ticket, which was not a good way to start his day. At the edge of the small hill on that side of the street is a small pond (more of a giant puddle) and at the edge of the puddle are cattails.
My Mother loved cattails, so I loved cattails. Their brown velvet casings are so soft, and the down that emerges from them is like a blessing, an indicator that it is time for this lovely thing to move on to its next phase of life (or death).
I remember at Topsail, towards the North end of the island at the curve just before the big bridge, stopping at the side of the road for my Mother to burrow into the marsh and cut cattails to take home. They would live for a long time, dried in an old bronze-toned vase with dragons etched and curling up its sides.
I think I have that vase somewhere.
And at Buxton, where a walk on the Maritime Forest Nature Trail in the chill of a beachside March dusk would yield cold fingers and runny noses, she would see cattails, but never disturb them, as the Nature Trail was a protected area. (Though she would snitch a few leaves from the Bay Laurel tree to ensure she had enough to carry her through the year.)
The sight of cattails this morning made me homesick.
We are going home very soon, to a different beach house for this one year, which will be good but strange, and we will start some new traditions, and welcome MKL into some old ones. And I will drive by the curve in the road where the cattails live, and remember.
Because of our senses, so many parts of the past are not lost to us.
Sight? We have images from as far back as 1826.
Sound? The first audio recording ever is from the 1860s. For Christmas last year, when I bought Kelsea her record player, I also bought an album of historical figures speaking, just so we could have a voice to attach to a name and a picture. We are cut off from this part of the past prior to the recorded word. Such is not the case with visuals, as we have paintings prior to photographs that give us images from centuries ago.
Taste? Well, for centuries some people have had good taste and some people have had questionable taste, but we’re not talking about that kind of taste. We’re talking about, say, turnips. A turnip today – at least one grown organically – likely tastes pretty much like a turnip six hundred years ago tasted. Ergo, status quo. We retain a history of taste due to the unchanging nature of basic foodstuffs.
Touch? Ditto taste. A cat’s fur feels the same as it did one thousand years ago. I think. Not everything is the same to the touch but there is a living history, A rock still feels like a rock.
And so we come to smell. And here is where history fails us. The sense of smell is lost with time – it is the most fleeting and least replicable of the senses. You know the fragrance of a rose, yet one fragrant rose is unlike another. And many roses are having the fragrance bred out of them, either because of people’s allergies and oversensitvity, or because the scent is sacrificed for a more stunning visual beauty. Will there come a day when the scent of roses is just a memory? Can it even live on in essential oils if there are no more fragrant roses?
Florals aside, while we can look at Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s picture, Netherlandish Proverbs, and you can see a lot of what life might have been like in a Dutch village in the 1500s.
You can imagine sounds, because you know what a voice sounds like, what a goat sounds like, what a cacophony of noise sounds like, but what is missing is being able to imagine the rich aroma of the place and time.This was an era when people didn’t bathe often, lived in close quarters, kept animals on small parcels of property, and had no particular system for waste disposal of any kind. Of course, they didn’t have all the trash that we do now, but organic waste is just as smelly as any other kind of waste. And there was possibly a lot more organic waste than we have now – I have no idea what they did with dead animals. Buried them, I hope. Or ate them, perhaps? Times could be tough.
This one sense, which in each of us today, is so variable – some can smell things that others cannot – is the element of the past from which we are most disconnected. A curious thought. Especially when scents can trigger such memories. When I open boxes that I packed up five years ago the day after my Mother died, her scent can waft out as if she’s by my shoulder. Perhaps she is.
When I was pregnant, I would have olfactory hallucinations – memories of smells from my past – primarily gardenias. It was lovely.
But then Kelsea came up to me this morning and said, “Mom, smell my shoulder.”
I guess that sense of smell can be a mixed blessing.
I was walking down the street the other day eating a banana.
I know that sounds like the beginning of some kind of bad and possibly pornographic joke, but it’s actually just what was happening. And I was uncomfortable with it. And that got me thinking about why I was uncomfortable with it.
And the answer? My Southern roots are showing again. Seems like they do that more often than not.
My sister-in-law (or more accurately, my two-year old niece) gave me a book last Christmas entitled, “Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On!: What Southern Mamas Tell Their Daughters that the Rest of Y’all Should Know Too” by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson. The book is kind of a retrospective of what we Southern women heard and learned as we were growing up. While it didn’t resonate with me as much as my own memories, it was entertaining, and brought some other thoughts to mind, which I’ll jot down here.
If you’ve read much popular Southern chick-fic (otherwise known as fiction books written for women), you’ll see terms such as DGs (Daddy’s Girls), Sweet Potato Queens, Ya Yas, and GRITS (Girls Raised In The South). Those terms didn’t exist back in my day.
If I was anything, I was a Southern Belle, although that label carried a connotation of wealth that I never hoped to achieve. Those were the girls who lived in Hope Valley, who were invited to participate in Cotillion, and who then became debutantes, complete with virginal white dresses at the Debutante Ball. It still happens every year, and I’m sure those not invited are still slightly, if silently, devastated. I recall presenting a “who cares” attitude to the world when my classmates all went off to dancing lessons – I was volunteering at the hospital, and working in a restaurant – but I still had a touch of longing in my heart. I spent my life on the fringes of the wealthy society of Durham, because I went to a great private school; I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. In reality, I think I had a much better time being on the outside.
But I digress. I guess you’re used to that. I will make an excellent old lady storyteller someday.
Back to the street and the banana.
I remember that, as a very (and I mean very) small girl, certain rules of propriety were hammered into me in that gentle way that only southern matriarchs can hammer. I believe these rules came from my Father’s Mother (known to all as Coochie), though it’s possible that both my Mother’s Mother and my Mother herself had an iron hand/velvet glove touch in reinforcing them. My Mother’s Mother was much more of a rough-and-tumble farm/mountain woman, but she stil made sure I had a hat, gloves, and a purse when she took me to church when she came to visit.
And as an aside, all the women in my family have that rough-and-tumble mountain woman touch to them. Myself included.
I can’t remember all the rules all at once. I seem to remember them piecemeal; that is to say, when I am breaking them, something stirs within me and I hear a gentle drawl in my ear, reminding me that I am violating some code of ladylike behavior.
Eating on the street is one of those rules. I don’t think I have ever, in my entire life, purchased a piece of food from a street food cart. Because then I would have to eat it on the street. And that just isn’t done. Whenever I find myself having to eat anything on the street, I find myself uncomfortable. Because the bottom line?
Ladies don’t eat on the street.
What else don’t ladies do?
Ladies don’t brush their hair in public. I do this, once in a while, but just as with eating, I feel uncomfortable, like several generations of southern ancestral women are looking over my shoulder, pursing their lips (which is a thing they did so very well to express their displeasure with something, while not actually uttering anything critical).
Ladies certainly don’t apply make-up in public. And this is assuming that one can still be considered a lady (as opposed to a harlot) if one even wears make-up. Coochie wore powder (she had several lovely compacts), a touch of lipstick, and a dab of rouge from the rouge pot. But not too much. And that was it.
I still have a vague feeling that I should be wearing gloves when I am out. I actually love wearing gloves – not big, Sasquatch, winter gloves, but dainty cotton, voile, or nylon gloves that fit your hands like, well, a glove. They are cool, and soothing, and your hands feel like they are being charmed and charming at the same time. Like you’re hiding something lovely beneath the fabric. (I have pretty hands, so I can say that I am.)
As I said, all the notions of what ladies do and don’t do aren’t at the surface. There are a few that rest beneath the surface, such as “Never use a toothpick in public” (though I don’t like it when anyone, male or female, does that) and “Ladies don’t chew gum in public” (a habit which I still find off-putting, though my Mother used to chew it in the car, but I think the car wasn’t quite considered public.)
My Mother also was relatively cautious about the length of my clothes. The rule was that it had to cover my “zatch”. The definition of the “zatch” area was slightly fuzzy (no pun intended) because we didn’t discuss the beginnings and endings of such physical limits in great detail. I believe when I asked, her answer was, “If you have to ask, you know what the answer is.” Suffice it to say, I knew. And now, though I am as far from a prude as I am from living in Antarctica, I find myself looking at 20-somethings teetering down Larimer Street on a Friday night in 5-inch heels and skirts that perhaps come up just shy of the “zatch zone”, and pursing my lips.
Perhaps I’m a Southern matriarch in the making after all.
The verdict in the molestation trial of Jerry Sandusky is in: Guilty.
I read Yahoo Sports writer Dan Wetzel’s article just after breakfast. His previous articles about the case have been fair and shown no bias, which in itself marks him as an excellent journalist, particularly in the sports universe, which often rushed to the defense of its heroes and legends when their worthiness is challenged. With this article, it was as if Mr. Wetzel had let a dam burst. There is no mistaking his personal feelings about this case. And I admire him for expressing them.
I am glad that Sandusky’s victims have found some justice. What happened to them can never be undone, and has left permanent scars but perhaps this gives them an opportunity to live somewhat more peacefully with those scars, knowing their stories have been told, and believed. They have been vindicated.
My own reaction to this verdict has fascinated me. This man is guilty. And yet, somehow, when I read the verdict, I felt a strum of guilt, sorrow, and doubt in myself. Like my childhood self remembering how I must have been mistaken about what was happening, how I should respect and pity my abuser, how it was me that was crazy, not him – not an old grandfatherly figure. Shit.
This has stirred up a lot of stuff for me. How we protect our abusers by our silence, and how we are mentally manipulated by them so that the concept of right and wrong is twisted into something like a cheap candelabra pulled from the ruins of an incredibly hot fire.
I am not one to revel in the misfortunes of others, even when they brought those misfortunes – and this guilty verdict – upon themselves. Perhaps I should find more peace in justice. Perhaps part of my own issue is that my abuser died before I (or anyone else) could confront him. And his sins died with him, except in the minds and souls of those others (and I’m sure there were other, not just me) that he abused. There was no justice there.
I guess I will have to think on this some more.
The fact that my Mother had Alzheimer’s when she died niggles at my swiss-cheesy brain sometimes.
I have always said that I have a mind like a steel sieve, especially since that unfortunate head injury on Easter Sunday some 20 years ago. (Only Tug, the best dog in the universe, was there to witness it, and he took my secret to the Rainbow Bridge.) But sometimes, I am more aware of my inability to retain things than at other times. It’s been an interesting adjustment for MKL, who has the memory of an elephant (and elephants have 10 1/2 pound brains with large, multiple-fold temporal lobes). He must be frustrated by the apparent empty space between my ears. He’s a grand storyteller, and often says, “Do you remember when I told you about….” or “I think I shared with you….” My unfortunate response is (way too often) “I don’t remember that!” On the plus side, it means that most things are new over and over again, and for me, that’s okay. But I do hate that it seems like I haven’t been listening to him, because I have. I love love love his voice. And his stories.
While I have grown comfortable with my forgetfulness, my brain is offering up a new twist lately – mistaking words. For example, on a Comcast commercial tonight, they were advertising a “Multilatino” package for those viewers who wish to see more channels in Spanish. I saw that word and read it as “Mutilatinos” – as in a combination of the words “mutilated” and “latinos” – which is awful all by itself.
And here’s another example. In that first paragraph, where I was talking about elephants? I originally wrote “elephone”. And where I wrote elephants? I wrote “elephonats”. It’s corrected now, but seriously….WTF?
This is just the most recent example of something that seems to happen to me all the time.
And while this one is not my fault, it is one of my current favorites.
I prefer my wi-fi to have bacon. Actually, I prefer everything to have bacon.
These days, if I’m going to comment on something, or read it aloud, I always make sure I do a double-take before I say anything. Better safe than stupid. Or with a besocked foot in my mouth. Either way.
This could just be a normal aging thing, like my increasing tendency to look for my sunglasses when they are on my head, or double checking to be sure I’m still wearing earrings – both of which, now that I write that, indicate that perhaps I am just unconsciously checking to be sure that my head is still attached. I’m not ruling that out.
As I am within licking distance of the half-century mark, I wonder if this is more of a problem or a symptom, than a quirk. I’m pretty sure I should start journaling in a more detailed fashion, and doing crossword puzzles. That’s what seemed to keep my Mom’s brain clicking. Not Sudoku, though, because not only do I not know how to pronounce it, it makes me want to shoot everything in sight. Not good.
Of course, I can’t recall any more recent incidents even though they happen often (there’s some irony for you, huh?) Which doesn’t make for as interesting post as if I did remember them. But you get what you get.
So what about you? Are you “of a certain age”? Do you have similar word foibles? Don’t worry, share away…I most likely won’t remember.
I wasn’t around for Pearl Harbor. Unbelievably, I’m not that old. But my parents equated their feelings about 9/11 with the feelings they experienced when they heard about Pearl Harbor. My father was unable to serve, so my first-hand experience of World War II is non-existent.
Years ago, when I was a road warrior for work, I spent a lot of time in New York City. On one visit, I had a string of meetings with ad agencies on December 7. I liked (and still do like) to create quintessential experiences for myself wherever I go, and so at the end of a long day, I decided to go have an experience at Sardi’s.
For those of you who don’t know it, Sardi’s is a classic restaurant in the Theatre District. It’s one of those places that you can go for a late supper after the show lets out. Known for the hundreds of caricatures of celebrities lining the walls of the dining room, Sardi’s has been a Broadway institution for 90 years. I considered it my duty to experience it firsthand, so on a chill December twilight, I made my way under the flashing neon and the burgundy awning, through the mahogany and glass doors with their brass kickplate, and into a slice of history.
The dining room was quiet so early in the evening, so I headed upstairs to the bar, which was bustling. I ordered a martini and stood back a bit, watching, gauging the energy of the people clustered together chatting. But not for long. The folks were welcoming and social and I was almost immediately included in conversations with people who seemed to have known the place forever.
There was a very drunk elderly woman, garbed in exquisitely pure white, complete with turban, wearing way too much makeup and hanging onto an extremely handsome young Brazilian man. She was somehow related to the New York Times family, and we had a long chat. She kindly bought me another martini, and when she had excused herself to powder her nose, the Brazilian gentleman slipped me his card – thick, cream-colored, embossed with his name. He was her kept man – her Giglio, he explained with pride. But if I required anything, he was sure he could get away, and she wouldn’t mind. How…. kind. He was really quite charming, discrete and nice about it all. And I declined, in case you were wondering.
There was a small circle of old-school newspaper reporters who enjoyed complaining as much as they enjoyed drinking, which was quite a lot, and seeing as how I was a fresh ear, they bought me another martini and regaled me with tales about their long careers.
And then there was the final little circle of elderly gentlemen. About six of them. They were all Pearl Harbor survivors. They met at Sardi’s every year, coming from around the country on December 7 to celebrate life, loss, patriotism, and victories large and small. Two of them had overcome cancer. Others had lost spouses, children, careers. But all were proud of their own survival, their own tenacious hold on life. They told me stories – where they had been, what it had been like, how they had felt. Tears were shed. After a couple more martinis for all – I bought them a round – they made me an honorary member of their unit and asked me to promise to come back the next year. They would be there. I was honored. And I was proud to have been able to meet them all.
I did not make it back next year. In fact, I never made it back. But December 7 never passes without my recalling those men and that night. I’m fairly sure that their number has dwindled, perhaps to nothing. Nevertheless, I am with them in spirit tonight, wherever they are.
(And after that many martinis, I had dinner with an ex-boyfriend and his wife, and spent the evening pretending that I spoke broken English with a charming French accent when the waiter was around, much to his amusement and her displeasure. I think the old boys would have gotten a kick out of it.)
Photo title: For My Mother, Who Loved Trees
Big Island, Hawaii.
Today is my Mother’s birthday, and I miss her, but I know she’s having a marvelous time wherever she is.
Quote of the day: “Don’t grieve. Everything you lose comes around in another form.” — Rumi
Being able to work from home when I am under the weather
Little leaf tornados
Thai food for a troubled tummy
I have 318 draft posts in the stomach of this blog.
318. That’s getting close to a post for every day of the year (just in case you couldn’t intuit that for yourself.)
But here’s the thing:
I have no idea what some of them are about.
Like most writers, my inspirations do not always strike at the most convenient times – like when I’m sitting down at a keyboard or with a journal and a pen. So I do what all writers do. I write down whatever I can wherever I can. Because I know I won’t remember it by the time I get to the “writing place”. I can’t even remember the five-item grocery list that I’ve been reciting to myself ceaselessly for an hour – even going so far as to make up a little song as a memory aid – if I walk into King Soopers and am distracted by the shopping carts being stuck together. Poof! The list is gone, just like the outline of a cloud. I will, however, remember, while sitting in a meeting at work sixteen hours later, that I forgot to buy lemon juice.
This lack of total recall translates into several things:
1. I have a dozen notebooks going at once.
2. Even so, I don’t always have one with me. When I need one and no current notebook is handy, I find (or buy) a new one.
3. If no notebook at all is available, I use whatever I have to write on – bills, receipts, dry cleaning tickets, my hand.
4. I can’t throw anything away because it might have a precious nugget of creativity on it (though I do wash my hands). Kelsea is going to have to save everything so she can piece together my memoirs after I am famous and dead.
5. I am a menace on the road, because it is very hard to write while driving.
6. Sometimes my notes make no sense at all.
Many of my post drafts are just a title. If it’s a brilliant enough idea to be a post and to have a title, surely the title will trigger that same waterfall of creativity about the topic. Wouldn’t one think? Well, one would be wrong.
Take, for example, a post drafted in February 2011 with the title “George and Jennie”.
I don’t know anyone named Jennie. And I only know one George. Maybe something about Winston Churchill’s mother? I tried googling “George and Jennie” – maybe it was something an old movie stirred up, or something inspired by NPR’s StoryCorps series. I often find that those spark the creative kindling.
The only thing I came up with was a couple named George and Jennie in Fayetteville, West Virginia, who mysteriously lost five of their children after their house caught fire back in 1945. Now, this does sound like something I would actually write about, but I know in my heart that I have never heard of this tale before, nor was it at all related to whatever my post was going to be about.
So I guess my George and Jennie post is as much as mystery as what happened to the five children sixty years ago (not to minimize the tragedy). It will likely come back to me one day while I am petting a random dog or rock-climbing or changing cat litter. Most likely at a time when no writing resources are available.
Some draft posts are titleless and contain nothing but a few choice phrases. Opening those is like opening a present – I have no idea what I’m going to find inside. But those are the ones that, when the spirit moves me, I can whip into a literary frenzy and complete with relish (and mustard, if that’s your preference). Those drafts are easier to work with.
Many potential posts dwell in my notebooks as well, lists of them. I often say to Kelsea, “I should write a post about that,” and she’ll say, “You should.” I treat her as my back-up brain – two days later, I’ll ask her,”What was that great idea I had for a post when we were watching Jersey Shore?” Sometimes she can remember, but sometimes she can’t. Darn unreliable back-up brains.
The notebooks contain nearly finished pieces, but unfortunately, they’re in the notebooks. And that’s often where they stay. Which is why Kelsea is going to have to keep everything that I have ever written on. Half-baked (as opposed to fully cooked) posts will also dwell for eternity on neatly lined pages if they take longer than a bus ride to finish. However, few of them – this one, for example – will, like a single-minded and determined sperm, make it to the promised land. But only a very few.
A draft is defined as “a preliminary version of a piece of writing” or, if you ask Mr. Webster online, “an instance of drinking”. I think for a lot of writers, there’s little distinction between the two. Just ask Hemingway. But at the end of the day, as I contemplate my 318+ drafts, I’m certainly inspired to drink a toast to them, and to all that someday-to-be-tapped creativity.
Photo title: Permanent Maps
Quote of the day: “We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.” — Ursula K. LeGuin
The smell of warm asphalt after a light rain
Laughing with my sister
Cranking at work
My vintage earrings
Today’s guest poet — Maya Angelou
Your hands easy
weight, teasing the bees
hived in my hair, your smile at the
slope of my cheek. On the
occasion, you press
above me, glowing, spouting
readiness, mystery rapes
When you have withdrawn
your self and the magic, when
only the smell of your
love lingers between
my breasts, then, only
then, can I greedily consume