This image comes from from Maira Kalman at the New York Times in her first illustrated blog post “The Inauguration. At Last.” It captures the day like nothing else I’ve read or seen. Nicely done.
Sameer tagged me in a meme. If you haven’t read his answers yet, you should, because it’s a lovely vignette. And while his praise of me is downright effusive, I’m happy to comply with seven stories from my childhood. (Steeping events in nostalgia is always a happy act.)
This was my first and favourite word. I’m incredibly tactile, and something about folding along a perforated line, the sound of paper neatly ripping, and gathering up the stray bits was so satisfying. My family members supported my habit, offering up paper dolls and sheets of stamps and coupon books – I amassed quite the collection of paraphernalia.
I have the loveliest mom in the world, and she gave us a storybook childhood. E and I always looked forward to rainy noontimes, because it meant living room picnics. Mom would pack up our straw basket with little sandwiches, cubes of cheese, tiny dill pickles and her lemon cake with the tart crinkly glaze. We’d spread a blanket on the living-room floor, open cloth napkins in our laps, and listen to Raffi and the rain on the windows. As she cleaned up, we’d retreat to the basement to finger-paint masterpieces which lined her walls in thanks.
Summer 1996 I witnessed a hog being slaughtered down the road from my grandparents’ home in Greece. I won’t recount details, but it was visceral, horrifying and I can play the film reel back vividly to this day: my love of Wilbur, feet planted like mud, Papou consoling me, and the hog’s blood mixing with sweat and dust and the dry pervading heat of Cycladic summer.
Oh, I still giggle at that unfortunate name. On Sundays, the bakery that delivered to our family’s restaurant was closed, so E and I would get to do an early-morning bread run with my dad. The shop had a pervading scent that I’ve never smelled in another bakery: sweet, heady, yeasty, divine … and I would marvel at the rows of buns and loaves and breadsticks as my dad gathered his order.
My mom kept a spectacular vegetable garden when we were kids. My favourite part was the unwieldy rows of bright green beans that overtook everything else despite pruning and tying and fencing. I would sneak outside with my little bucket and collect the verdant specimens, splash them under the hose, and stow away behind the shed snacking on my bounty. Raw green beans are still my summers, neatly packaged in a pod.
I most always drink my tea black, but from time to time I’ll take it with sugar and cream, as my Great Gran Emmy would prepare for us as kids. I can’t help but be overcome with nostalgia sipping the sweet lukewarm liquid – for the Dove-soap-and-cigarettes smell of her home; the tiny roses on her porcelain tea cups; and the jam thumbprints she kept in the freezer that never quite thawed completely in time for tea.
My crazy parents had their daughters roughly in pairs, and it worked, ‘cause I’ve always had a built-in best friend. Eleni drives me crazy most of the time (likewise, she’ll attest), but there’s no one else with whom I’d want to have worn matching outfits for the first ten years of my life.
I’m not tagging, but I’d still love for Niki, Ben, Mere, Eleni, Jesse, Dave, Sameer (and everyone else) to tell me a childhood story … or seven.
This quote has been following me around all day:
When you can’t make sense of someone leaving, you sometimes try to make sense of what they left behind. And it makes it a whole lot easier when what they left you was beautiful.
It’s a nicely composed set of words, it hits at the aesthetic. People come, people go, we only have these things that they leave behind to carry them in our hearts. The last line, though, is the most interesting; that the pain of leaving is appeased by the beautiful. And it gets me to thinking about human beings as gatherers: of places and things and people. Does holding on to the nice bits make it easier? I’m not sure.
We undeniably collect things. We say that life is lived in the moments we make, but we’re more tied to the tangible reminders that keep the memories alive. Experience is the neatly packaged bits and baubles that we accumulate to make stories to tell: movie tickets from a first date; a map scrawled on a post-it note; the carefully-composed vacation photographs and dried-up rose petals and seashells from the seashore; news cuttings for births and deaths and graduations and in memoriams that rotate behind the same old fridge magnets.
Beautiful is one of those strange words. As I take stock of my little hole with people and memories buried away, I realize that none of what’s left is beautiful by some objective standard. An old tattered book and a shiny steel peppermill and a bent photograph and some shredded raffia tucked in a shoebox aren’t beautiful, but together they compose a narrative that’s long past, one that’s otherwise out of mind. And that carefully recreated nostalgia is probably better than the real thing.
I guess what puzzles me is: why do we work so hard to make sure we have these hard copies of the coming and the going? What makes the pieces beautiful? And why does accumulating and purging artifacts – as the case may be – help us carry on?
Having spent the last two weeks back in my childhood bedroom, I’ve gotten to digging through the dresser drawers for treasures.
I have a thick pile of journals from back when that I dusted off this afternoon, a practise I gave up along the way.
Old journals are kind of mortifying, no? I think in large part because they expose bits of our personalities that are still there; that we wish weren’t. I thought I was plenty smart back then, but the entries are pleasingly teenage girl. With boy woes and questionable philosophies and sappy quotes … and because I was a bit of a strange kid, the occasional half-completed Pascal/Cayley/Galois practice booklet tucked inside.
Cringe-inducing or not, it mostly ends up falling from memory.
One list tells me my favourite season was summer, pen-colour – pink, magazine – Time, subject – English. I loved tulips and the movie Almost Famous and hated apricots (still do). I listened to Ryan Adams and Paul Simon and Hanson (still do). I played soccer (centre-mid) and ate butter pecan ice cream.
I was religious. That came as a genuine surprise. All these years, I have taken for granted that I began and remained an atheist, but many of these entries are directed at a God. So, that has me trying to figure out the sea-change, when and how I fell out of prayer.
My highschool love is chronicled from first blush (June 18, 2001) … entries about trips to the trainyard and learning to use chopsticks and heaving a gamut of letters in the trash when things ended (I regret that).
In one volume from the island, I had my Yia-Yia dictate family recipes: ingredients, measures, methods written in long form. It makes me nostalgic for Greek sunrises and milky ouzo and picking figs and sweaty siestas and walks to the mill with my Papou.
(The writing was filled with purple-prose and parentheses – there, I guess some things never change.)
I’m definitely not a resolver, but for my 14-year-old self, I’m keeping a better record of 2009.