Historical Associations

Photo: "The Amazing Feat of 'Sparks'"The small number of vintage family photos I own are a pleasure to view. I’ve admired some of them for their sheer aesthetic value, some for the clues they give to my ancestors; lives, and (indirectly) how the led to mine, and some for both qualities. But I’ve found that, like so many other belongings, the more I see them, the less I notice them. I should know this by now, having lived in around a dozen locations in my life and done the revisionist-revisiting of my personal history that comes with every sort-and-pack adventure. Objects, no matter how I imbue them with meaning and attach to them with affection or nostalgia, are still just objects. I have often enough regretted a hasty or wasteful acquisition, never mind the long-term storage and maintenance of it; I can honestly say that not one de-accessioning has left me seriously sorry. My memory is sufficient.Photo: Mormor & Morfar at Eitland

The family photos that have hung on my walls become—no pun intended—relatively invisible over time. It’s really the stories with which I have come to associate them, true or imagined, that make me revisit them, and this is far more often in my mind’s eye than in physically examining them.Photo: Otteson Family in Norway 1

I haven’t lost interest in my loved ones, unknown relatives, friends, or acquaintances when I stop looking at their pictures any more than I have lost interest in food and drink when I part with a vintage serving bowl or beautiful stemware; it’s just that I have so internalized my affections for them and the personal associations I have with them that those internal images become as real and significant as the things themselves. If I have enough to keep me content and well-filled—bowls, glasses, pictures on the walls—any extras become unnecessary to my pleasure; they go, and the enjoyment remains for as long as I have the memory to revisit it.Photo: Otteson Family in Norway 2

And when the memory goes, I’ll never know it’s missing, will I.Photo: Bolstad Family Grocery, ca. 1912

Kath & Mouse

I’ve been blogging daily just long enough, now, that I find it impossible to remember every post I’ve put up thus far, never mind any larger percentage of my life’s epic episodes. It’s nice that many of those events and adventures eventually reappear, at least in teeny-tiny increments, in my shadowy, foggy memory, but I suppose it’s far from essential. We all lose traction in the paths of life at times, and get by as best we can in spite of it all.

Maybe hanging out with the next-door kitty cats so much lately has distracted me a bit more than usual and I can blame their attentions for my current inability to recall if I have posted this little set before; perhaps my brain is already pretty furry anyhow. It hardly matters. I’ll just give you another look. Or a first one. It’s all just a tad cat-and-mouse anyway, what we do here on a day-to-day basis, isn’t it.Drawing + text: Cat and Mouse

Memory is such a volatile, ephemeral, thing, and so subject to filters and interpretation. Like human history in general, if I may say. When I wrote this, I certainly wasn’t expecting (let alone happy to contemplate) that Differentness—racial, gender-related, cultural, and so forth—would still be such unfunnily real divisive poisons in the current day and age. I hope that this will one day be only the humorously cartoonish tale it was designed to be, when I posted it before (if I have), when I blog it today (as I will), and whenever I post it again (for I might very possibly do it all over again, consciously or forgetfully. Ha. Joke’s on me.

Remember This

Photo: Forgotten ThingsIf you are getting more forgetful with the years, all is not lost. It’s more about remembering the central, crucial, meaningful things than about being able to rattle off all of your codes and passwords, your second cousins’ birthdays, or the conversion tables for metric-to-imperial measurements. It doesn’t matter terribly if you can recall whether you closed the back gate when you came in, since you’ll eventually go out again. Recollections of your intent to mark a play you want to attend on your calendar because it’ll be in town in six weeks or of what you meant to buy when you got to the grocers’ might be important, but only for a short while, and only in the smaller scheme of things.

It’s much more important to remember the peculiarly exciting, if murky, odors of a busy train station where you waited to take your first solo journey of more than ten city blocks, at the tender age of thirteen or so. More useful to recall the sound your heart made in your ears when that feral and atavistic fear and longing of new love brought its strangely sweet and terrifying joy into your central nervous system for the very first time. It’s far and away more significant to remember that you ever had a single human, known to you or an utter stranger, who looked you straight in the eye and said a kind word, or who listened to you speak because it genuinely mattered what you said, regardless of how small the topic.

It’s most important of all to remember that your presence on this planet shifts the very molecules of time, space, and reality for every other living entity, and did so from the instant of your conception and will do so forever and ever after you, simply because you came into existence. You are matter, and you do matter. What positive effects you can have by merely being present here might seem infinitesimally minute to you. But for one other being, someone you didn’t even realize could be so affected, you might be that person who looked her straight in the eye and said a kind word, the object of electrifying first love, or the indirect yet needful reason a youth boards a train, solo, for the first and most memorable journey of his life.Photo: A Life's Journey

Rosemary, that’s for Remembrance

Photo: RemembranceBecause its distinctive and elegant, resinous perfume and flavor are so potent, the herb rosemary is intimidating to use. Hyper-sensory persons like my spouse can be reluctant to choose dishes when they detect a larger presence of herbs, and this beauty is among the most extroverted and easy-to-spot on that list. It can overpower extra delicate ingredients if used heavy-handedly.

But, like many accomplished and self-assured characters, when this fabulous herb is showcased to its best advantage, it’s the life of the party, the belle of the ball. With such a unique, recognizable scent and flavor profile, it’s easy for me to see how it would be the obvious choice as a symbol, and indeed, stimulant, of memory. Whenever I pass a rosemary plant I am compelled to stroke its incense-laden leaves, their odorous stickiness seeming to hold my hand in a reciprocal grasp. I inhale a long, deep draught of that alluring oil and am transported hither and yon in time and space. Of course, I was thinking about this unusually potent attraction when I wrote about the garden just last Tuesday.

Then, last night, I was reminded of how long the name has had a special resonance for me as well. My email held a little note informing me that my great-aunt Rosemary had just arrived at my blog as a subscriber, and without the aid of any herbal catalyst to take me there, I was transported back in time to when I first remember her, when I was very young and small. This Rosemary, too, has always had for me great beauty both inwardly and outwardly, not least of all because she was kind to little me and my siblings and our young cousins and friends and, especially, to my great-uncle, but also because she was eagerly intelligent, thoughtful, and full of quiet strength.

My great-uncle, her husband and companion of so many years, died just recently, and I can only imagine what a sea change this makes in her life. It’s a strange thing when relatives we have rarely been near in person for great lengths of time, whether the distance was one of miles, ages, life paths, or a combination of these as in our case, die. My great-uncle’s sister, my grandmother, left this world in an entirely different way, having been usurped by Alzheimer’s some years before she died and thus becoming a wholly different person than the one I’d known, while still living in a place where I could manage to see her occasionally without crossing the country. Two different sorts of separation, but in both instances, the person I knew from my youth had effectively been removed from my sight and my daily life for a long time; yet when each died, I was surprised to find I experienced the loss afresh. I suppose it’s partly being able, now, to mentally return to the place and conditions in which I felt I knew them best. Memory, yes, it is a strange and magical thing.

No more icebox cookies while reading in Grandma’s living room, or watching her crochet her perfectly aligned tiny rows to make the best potholders on earth while we visited. No more leafing together through Uncle Ralph’s gorgeous black-and-white photos of a full life and all of our relatives looking ever so much younger and more mysterious and glamorous in them, or hearing him discuss anything from nature’s beauty to what was on the table to psychology with avid, probing attention. Heaven knows there are enough quirks in our extended family to have kept his keen and trained mind busy with this last topic to the degree that I can only imagine it will continue to entertain him equally in the afterlife. He’s probably our there having a good laugh over my having said so.

But as for Rosemary, both the herb and my great-aunt, the preciosity lies, not just in the beauties of memory but also in being stalwart, graceful, and remarkably unassuming for such strong and lovely creations. It is truly good to reconnect with and be blessed by those gifts. One chapter of the story ends and a new and sweet one begins.

Tiger Time

If you remember anything about primary school (and I do, if little) you hopefully have a few memories of one or more of the fantastic sort of teachers who were the virtual equivalent of extra aunties and uncles and grandparents, but neatly spun into the form of educators whose wise teaching made you learn things without even knowing you’d worked at it, and want to learn things you hadn’t even known you wanted to know just because they were such fine pedagogues that they made it seem possible, if not easy.

You undoubtedly also have a memory or two of teachers who were quite the opposite. My personal least-fave was the third grade teacher who had no compunction about excoriating and humiliating a student in front of the rest of the class regardless of the infraction or any of their previous achievements or behavior, even cracking a yardstick onto desktops to make a point when she was het up, regardless of whether there might be some small knuckles in the way of the stick. At the very same time, she apparently thought it perfectly logical and beneficial to ‘level the playing field‘ and make all students feel they could accomplish something in her class, lest the PTA or school board think her not supportive and informative enough, and this she would do by sitting and doing the weakest students’ homework for them.

I knew nothing of this until one time when I was the unlucky receptacle for her ire, having failed a penmanship test in the first weeks of school because that school required students to learn cursive writing in the end of the second grade and the one in another state where I had spent my second grade did not. Had she asked us all to sing a song in Spanish, I might have been the star of the class, because my second grade teacher Mrs. Mosqueta let us learn a little elementary Spanish from one Señor Ybarra, who taught by the ultra-newfangled medium of televised classes, and I don’t think my new classmates in Illinois had yet had access to such magicks themselves. But there I was, little miss Goody Two-Shoes, who had never gotten anything but perfect scores because I was too prim and much too afraid to not do my homework to the nth degree—if I had any actual training or homework to prepare in the event—flunking my attempt to make Pretend Cursive when that mean lady in her sausage-casing dress didn’t even ask whether I’d ever been trained to write that way. If you think I still sound remarkably bitter about such a small thing from so long ago, well, I probably ought to let it go but I tend to enjoy my little revenge fantasies more than is entirely good for me.Digital illustrations + text: Tiger TimeThis is all in jest, of course. I wouldn’t be so cruel as to want to give any poor innocent tigers indigestion.

 

Little Things

The tiniest detail can determine the depth and intensity of a memory. It’s that faint fragrance wafting from the corner of the flowerbed at my first home that I remember most about playing in its front yard, and that in turn, reminds me—every time I get a whiff of the same scent—of living in that cozy brick house with its backyard apple trees to climb, the slope from fence to sidewalk where we slid down the grass on a cardboard magic carpet, and the narrow muddy track behind the back wall where we played at exploration.

My grandmother gave me a little locket, once, that had been her father’s watch fob, and I made a little drawing of the monogram on its front, HDB for Hans Daniel Bolstad. When I look at the drawing now, the locket itself long gone somewhere else after multiple moves of residence, I remember the small weight of it in my hand, the warm burnished shine of its pale yellow metal, and the feel of the engraved curves in the monogram bitten well into the gold-plated finish on it. I also remember, thanks to the tiny little hole where the drawing is black at the bottom center of the drawing, hearing the story of how the space between the engraved lines there were caved in by a different kind of bite, that of Great-Grandpa’s tiny daughter when she teethed on the locket a little fiercely.Drawing: Memento

What will I remember when my memory is further faded by time and age? Impossible to know. But my guess is that it’ll be seemingly insignificant, minute motes, and not the grand arc of history, that’ll remain intact and prod me to recall unexpected things from time to time. I may not hang onto much of importance, but some dust-sized fleck of a sensory clue that will likely trigger a cascade of reminiscence when the moment comes.

Make a Note of It

I do, and learn, new stuff all the time. I wish it’d stick with me! It seems my approach to learning is very much of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety, or possibly, one forward, two back, if I’m to be entirely truthful. So much seems like water flowing through a sieve in this ol’ brain of mine.

That is one of the prime forces that made me such an inveterate list-aholic. I fear that if I don’t have lists for every occasion and purpose, and lists of what those lists are, I am doomed to lose whatever motes of mindfulness I have collected in the course of my journeys. Not that lists aren’t perfectly able to be misplaced, forgotten and misinterpreted themselves.

There is probably no perfect solution to this problem. I end up thinking about my lists almost more than about the contents of them or what I might do with said contents, most especially avoiding the thought that if I spent the list-composing and writing time on simply doing what I am making notes to remind me to do, I might not even need the lists. Heresy.

What can I say. I am a pessimist: I don’t think I’ll ever find enough time in a day to get all that I want done accomplished. I am an optimist, too: I think that if I hold something so dearly important as to document its urgency on a list, surely I will someday get it done. Obviously, I am just a good old-fashioned, self-deluded fool. But I have a whole list of reasons that that’s okay and will still get me to my goals. Eventually.digital illustration