22 August 2019

Looking Backwards

So a friend of mine pointed this out, and it's odd to me that I never noticed: everything in our house looks backwards. Our furniture is mostly made up of family pieces; and even the pieces Cindi and I have added over the years tend to mix in with the "old" look quite naturally. I noticed walking from room to room today that my Grandma Bess could easily spot something in every room that was hers: her old iron sits on the hearth of our fireplace in the living room; the bench that we used to sit on as children on her back porch sits beneath the window of my dining room; the kitchen has several pieces of her crockery atop the cabinets; the master bedroom has her wash-stand beside the bed with my stuff on it and pictures of her sons are on the wall and also her grandmother; in the guest room the rocking chair I found in her barn and had refinished occupies a corner, and a cloth made by her aunt covers the dresser; and last but not least in the study, my desk is actually the large two-plank table made by her grandfather and at which we enjoyed many a buttery light roll and glass of sweet tea. And that's just my dad's mom! We could do much the same for my mom's family and Cindi's family also (at least on Nana's side). 

And frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way. My friend asked if I were presenting a "sanitized" version of the past. No, I don't think so. Almost every object comes with memories and the memories are not uniformly pleasant. I remember, for instance, that no matter how carefully I tried to get my grandmother's tea to her, if I spilled a little bit outside the cup, she never failed to note the fact: "Oh, you spilled it again." And if my father was mostly a silent man, his father was far, far more so. Rarely did he speak at all, though I recall his voice being a bit high and raspy. He's still largely an unknown, and yet I treasure the mementos from the old house. I honestly wish I had inherited more of them, but know that I ought not be greedy. 

And then there are the ghosts. No, I don't mean that in the way you're thinking. I mean the memories that crowd in of all these folks that touched our lives at some point, some of them quite deeply, some of them even painfully, and yet who are all gone. And I carry the memory of many, Cindi of her many too, and to our children they are but stories, and to our grandchildren they will likely be unknown. Will they even care that that teapot was a wedding gift to my grandmother and grandfather back at the turn of the 20th century? I know that I never got to meet my great Aunt Annie (Nannie) and yet there has rarely been a more influential presence in my life than that women. Her sayings lived in my mother's mouth and so they live in my own memory and heart. I know who she is from some pictures I have. But, of course, who will she be to my grandchildren? It still makes me smile to hear Cindi sometimes trot out for the grandchildren one of her saying: "I can't lost his cornfield, but I'll try found it!" My personal favorite was always one my mother ceaselessly drummed into my bookish head: “All the book learning in the world won’t teach you how to milk a cow.” On the other hand, Aunt Annie always said that a book was the most wonderful thing, for with it you could travel the world without leaving your rocking chair.

So while I live and the memory of them is live, I enjoy my ghosts. I enjoy tremendously looking and remembering. I see the desk where Aunt Fanny wrote her letters to her dear friend Mrs. Kennedy in the evening. I see Nana's table around which so many gathered for Christmas at her house in Bethesda. I just lift my bottle of water from Aunt Gee's little library table that sits beside my chair and I'm reminded of how she and Uncle Cleve first lived in the house that my father later grew up in. Memories abound and I'm happy for a backwards looking house that lets the past live comfortably with the present. Yes, a standing desk contraption with iPad and printer sits upon the old table in the study. Yes, a light alarm clock occupies pride of place on my washstand. And I had to explain to a friend the other day, we don't DO Compact discs because we actually stream all our music on the HomePod or our portable devices. The new snuggled against the old. But not the new simply without the old or vice-versa. Both together. The past and the present meeting together in partnership to provide a haven for facing whatever tomorrow may bring. And the past helps remind me that no matter how permanent anything may seem, here we have no lasting city. They knew that. They often put it on their headstones. But we seek the one to come. 


Anonymous said...

I was musing on the nature of the odds-and-ends I possess that will probably mean little, to nothing, to those who follow: my dad's old coffee mug (may he rest in peace and light), my grandather's pocket watch that his grandfather gave him on the day of his confirmation in Germany (my great-great-grandfather), an old box camera my mom received as a gift when she was a girl. The memories they invoke are precious and it made me realize why the Church did go down the path of relics...for all the wrong reasons they did, still, there is something to them that is not so wrong at all.

William Weedon said...

Exactly. When you strip off the superstitious nonsense, they are tangible connections with earlier characters in the church’s long story and as such they find their true value.