I went forward into the past this week when I visited my parents. I will reserve every other Tuesday to drive out and spend an afternoon. Aside from the company, I get a chance to load up their washing machine and do laundry. Mom is always willing to cook for me and Dad is usually good for a religious/social justice conversation, so everyone gets what they need. I tag along with Dad when he tends the alpaca (they have three – according to Dad, they’re an investment – their fiber is in demand ). What I get is a home-cooked meal, good conversation, and sunlight – who could ask for anything more?
( well, there IS something, but you shouldn’t expect it from your parents. Let your mind wander where it wants. )
My folks have been in this house for almost one year. Their old house is still for sale. If you know anyone who’d like a 2-bedroom cottage an hour away from Acadia National Park, let me know. If not, I plan to buy it when I win a big money lottery and you’re all invited to visit. When my parents decided to move, the biggest challenge they encountered after deciding they’d move was for my mother to manage her clutter. Mom is a packrat and it frustrates Dad. She’s a quilter, so she has fabric, pattern books, more fabric, a couple sewing machines…did I mention she had fabric? She also cooks, so there are boxes of cookbooks and loose recipe clippings. Mom is also the unofficial family historian for her family. While my Dad was out in the barn tending the alpaca, Mom was working on my Christmas present – a quilt, so I decided to sit with her and go through some old diaries that belonged to my great-grandparents. My knowledge of my Mother’s family was limited, so this was a great opportunity. This was a chance to go back in time through the pages of these diaries.
These were not typical journals or diaries. These were written by Connecticut Yankees, the original uptight generation. The intimate details of their lives were not included in these books. Their opinions on matters of the day were omitted, as were expressions of emotions. Think of a typical photograph from the turn of the 20th century – monochrome tones, emotionless expressions, stiff posture – all carry-overs from the Victorian Era. Nobody is smiling for the camera in these shots.
The daily entries consisted of the high temperature for the day, along with a brief weather observation, short bits of daily events, maybe the price of gas ($3.50 for ten gallons of gas)or groceries (2 1/4 lb. of bananas for 45 cents)…stuff like that. It was common to find accounts of someone dropping by the house or calling on a neighbor, all from a time when folks did that on a regular basis My great-grandfather kept track of his stock information in his journal. According to my mother, if it weren’t for the Crash of ’29, her family would’ve done nicely in the market. He also kept track of his bowel movements. Back then they called it “elimination”. That was a growing concern for that generation. Strange times, indeed.
My great-grandfather died in 1967. I was not quite 7 years old when he died. I never knew him and cannot recall any events that included him. I only know his face from a photo taken in 1961, with my mother, my grandfather (her father), and my great-grandparents. My great-grandfather has the same expression on his face that he wore when the family had their photo taken in 1917. That expression gave me no indication of who this man was, what he stood for, and what in life gave him meaning. What brought him pleasure? Did he enjoy listening to the radio in the evening? Was he a fan of sports – did he follow a ball team? My mother tells me that he was stoic and difficult to read, with a face similar to his photograph. His days were long and full of chores.
The past and its stories have a purpose. We are not meant to live in the past, but in the stories of another time we can see bits of ourselves. We can take those bits and reflect on our own lives. I look back and wonder what of my great-grandfather has been passed on to me. My words on these pages resemble little of what he wrote; you will not read about my bodily functions, gentle reader. If I do discover something that grabs at my brain, you’ll be the first to know.