Looking Back

The railings had a hard rough frost yesterday that didn’t feel slick at all, more like the gritty stuff they put on steps to keep people from slipping. Winter is coming. As always, and four years after moving here from the city, I’m still amazed by the utter silence in the mornings. My heater is blasting, and here I am, looking at one year left before I’m three-fourths of a century old. Or young, as they like to say now. The doctor who recently gave me my physical did say I’m in better shape than anyone he’s ever seen my age. I told him I should be – I work hard enough at it.

I’ve been trying to look back on seventy-four years, but there’s just too much to take in. The fact is, I’ve lived through so many wonder-ful, interesting and plain stupid things in my life, I’ve had people accuse me of making them up. Maybe that’s part of the reason I became a novelist. Fiction is all about “making things up”. But one thing most people don’t understand is that, if we put even half of what we know to be true into our fiction, many would reject it as implausible, suspect, hard to believe. Hence, I believe, the recent surge in memoir writing. Folks want to put it down somewhere, and be damned to those who don’t believe “it actually happened like that!”

When my mother passed away, I invited my niece and nephews to come and get the things of their mother’s that Gram had saved since my sister’s death: school records, programs, toys, craft projects, her wedding dress which had been made over for my niece when she got married and then stored away again. Photos, photos, photos. Every time they came to Mama’s house, I said, “Please go upstairs and go through it – I can’t take it all home with me.”

Well, I did end up taking it home with me – who can bring themselves to throw such things away? Many years later, when my niece was drawn to her own ‘looking back’, she sent an email asking if I still had anything of her mother’s. I bundled it all up and sent it to the last address I had for her. She had moved some months before without mentioning it on Facebook (today’s version of a phone call), and we had a time tracking it down. Luckily she knew the people who had moved into her old house. They were about to throw it out.

My point is, such yearnings for memories must come at their own time, each at our own age. And if that time comes late, we are left wondering what we’ve missed. Maybe not letters these days, but Gram’s old books, Pop’s collection of brochures of the places he dreamed of traveling to someday, Mama’s handwritten notes for the guitar class she took when her babies were young. But most of all, long leisurely conversations. All those things that would give us a better understanding of what kind of people they were, not just our own memories of what kind of parents they were.

I must start jotting things down and hope I have time to make a sort of memoir so my grandkids won’t someday regret all the questions they were too far away or too busy with life to ask while I was here. Like the things I regret not asking my own Granny about – living through the Roaring Twenties, the Depression, the War (any of them). Widowhood. Two husbands. Six kids born at home. Remembering her, I will try to let my grands and great-grands know what all I was up to before they became aware that Grams must have had their own lives, after all, not just adjuncts to their own.

I only hope they won’t say, “Well, that’s pretty hard to believe. I’ll bet she made it up!”

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