Thursday, October 20, 2016
A while back...
What does that even mean?
I think it means that the writer is uncertain of the time frame, or, is unwilling to face the consequences of putting a thought or memory onto the time-line of a lifetime.
I almost started with "a couple years back..." but I realized the incident only happened, like, four months ago. And yet, it seems like much longer ago. I guess we've done a lot since then, but, honestly, we don't actually do a lot. Maybe it's the seasonal change here, a change that relegates the previous season to a long list of Summer memories, Winter dreams and Fall melancholy.
We were several days into a fine beach vacation with the boys and Marci's parents. There were excursions and laziness and body surfing and dining and the like. The boys shared a room with twin beds and they were snuggled down in them. The sand was washed from them and the smell of soap masked the smell of the ocean, although that salty sea scent lingered deep in their still wet hair.
Nick lay quietly as Zack was falling slowly to sleep. He seemed sad so I asked him what the matter was.
He hesitated a moment and then said to the quiet, "I miss our family home."
I knew then what it meant, I know right know what it means, and, I will know it in the years to come. Was he homesick? Yes. Was he lonely? I'd say yes. Was he - I guess there's a better word somewhere, but not handy - discombobulated? Out-of-sorts? Yes, I know I was.
There's another part to what he was feeling, a primal, tribal part, the sense of place. When I miss a part of my life, past or present, it is with a geographical precision. Memories come wrapped in the place of them, like little shoe-box dioramas of owls or paper models of places to pray. The memory of learning John Prine's "Paradise" is set in a kitchen and I still play it best in one. A fire of driftwood in the mountains can be pinpointed to a place called "Lonesome Lake" on the Mogollon Ridge. The lake was dry, and the wood was as well, and the smoke hung under an indigo blanket of stars. My childhood is in places - the middle and junior high school, built early in a century I've seen end, wax floors and lacquered gymnasium; a home in the country, the floor plan a map of memories; a pine wood there, a creek, the railroad tracks, the Glasses Eating Pond, here, here, here and here; my next door neighbor friend JB's room the summer he cut his leg and we learned to play chess - all of these places open my mind to what has been.
And, that's just the thing- the place of a memory is its door, and we alternately long and are loathe to open it. That door of place illuminates, once opened, the cloud where the memory dwells - our conscience, our heart, our soul, our electrically fired gooey brains - which displaces the latitude and and longitude of it with all that transcends place.
I have, on more than one occasion, walked the length of the rural road I grew up on. I wrote about one such excursion in a piece called "The Man in the Green Reds Hat." I wondered unapologetically down that lane in search of a spot that might show me the lost things of my boyhood. It worked. But then something else happened, I was inundated with detail and emotion all at once. I saw my own self walking toward me. I was both there and here, both past and present. It wasn't the dot of dirty road on the map I was was feeling, it was the dust that had blown up from it and settled in my soul.
We all know that a word has a definition, its denotation, and a connotation, it's... what? Younger kids don't really have an understanding of that. The boys get the concept, but, without an accumulated canon of knowledge, that understanding falls short. I tried to explain it once to Z as "the story of a word." Another time to Nick I said that connotation is the way a word echoes through time.
Think about what Nick said, "I miss our family home." It drips with connotation. Longing for a 'home' places us somewhere we loved, were loved, still love. Home is more than a dwelling, it is a stack of chipped bowls, a sunset in the backyard, a beloved tree, a pet. It is fire and wind up and down the same chimney, it is coziness and comfort, tears and talismans, hearth and hope. The word itself - Home - tells you its story, which is actually your story.
'Family' is different, though, harder. I am older now and understand that it doesn't invoke the same feeling in me as it may in others. I've read the novels, seen the plays, shaken my head at the memoirs, biopics and documentaries. I've heard the word echo through corridors of my life and I can't quite derive what it is always saying to me. But, you see, it's only echoed in the short halls of their life, Nick and Zack that is.
Short of dysfunctional Disney families or a rough, sad family in a book - Harry Potter and the like - they haven't seen that harder side of the word. They've heard it echo softly, sweetly, never a bombastic shout or muffled sob which they've yet to hear. They will though, sadly. I guess a word echoes differently for all of us, each of us hearing our own.
I guess I've been dwelling on this place and memory, family and home thing for a while. It is simple, I think, conceptually to see the associations, the idea of it, but then the words start shouting and the place tells a story and...
Dwelling is a noun and a tense of the verb dwell, the past tense of which is dwelt. A dweller is one who dwells. Dwellings is plural but, if one who dwells on something and writes it down is the result a dwelling? And more than one of these things would be dwellings, correct?
There is also a technical use for the word, I'd forgotten all about that. Do you see how mixed up a word can get?
So, when I use a word, when I speak on family and place in this instance, what does it do to you? I think you can discern my use of a word from someone else's, but I trust you to bring your stories and echos of it along with you. In fact, I count on it.
Autumn is quiet this year, the maples in back are a muted yellow bordering on beige. The woods are dry and crispy and the pine trees are dropping tan needles which carpet the front yard. My mood is muted as well. Life seems heavier than usual, somehow dire. I hope it is the election cycle, which I've already addressed here. It's not, probably, the election, it's more about courage and faith. No, that's not it either. It's about fear and doubt... mine.
In a bunch of years, I might look back on this election and remember being sad and looking out of my family home, dwelling on place and doors and stories and echoes and...
I was, am and will be, sitting right here at 39°16'54.1"N 84°17'34.1"W. I reckon I always will be.
Thanks for coming 'round. I've not been posting as often here, I can't say why, really, I'll only offer a vague "it's getting harder." Peace, as always, oh, and hey, vote.
"... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."
Nick: "I'm playing a game that I am raging at."
Dad: "That's my boy!"
Give that boy a hat to throw down and stomp on... not that anyone does that, I mean, who would, right?