PART III – THE SEASONS OF MY LIFE
“Every season seems best to us in turn”
Henry David Thoreau – Walden
From the time I was a child, my life has run according to a seasonal orbit as fixed as any planet’s . The seasons that have revolved around and around and around through the calendar of my days have each had its own delicious flavor: the effervescent champagne of springtime; the brandy-hot passion of summer; the honey meade of autumn and sips of the aromatic, full-bodied wine of remembrance that warm the wintertime of my being.
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come;
and the voice of the turtle is heard throughout the land
From the “Song of Solomon” –
The King James Version of The Bible
2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. It probably isn’t as accurate as those produced by modern scholars, but the modern editions lack the poetry and, in my opinion, the soul of the King James
Some Of Thoreau’s Words About Spring
…The coming of spring is like the creation of Cosmos out of Chaos and the realization of the Golden Age.
A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of brighter thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present, always… We loiter in winter when it is already spring. In a pleasant spring morning, all men’s sins are forgiven.
Henry David Thoreau – Walden
Nostalgia is complex: Sometimes it casts a golden glow and wraps you in warm fuzzies; other times it brings sharp grief of knowing that time past cannot be recaptured. One is swept with regret about things left undone or unsaid… May is like that and is second only to Christmas in my store of poignant memories.
Marcel Proust described the mechanism of memory and how an unimportant event can bring past time to life in his masterwork, In Search of Lost Time. A name in the newspaper, a sound, a tune, a taste, a flower, or a scent can set me to fishing in my pool of experience and reminiscence. Beneath the surface, memories of people, places and events swim along like fish in a pond. When I pull out one item, other vivid recollections float to the surface of my consciousness like fish on a stringer.
The obituary of Knightstown’s Joe Sullivan triggered a flood of memories of Sullivan’s Drive-in across the bridge out on Road 40 just east of town. It was the teen hangout where the Nine Nifty Nicotino’s, my girlfriends, and I went to see and be seen, guzzle pop, eat Coney dogs and take clandestine puffs from cigarettes. “Gimme a drag on that fag!” Oh, we thought we were so with it! (We didn’t use the word “cool” back then). Actually, we were very good girls, although it took me over twenty years to rid myself of my nicotine addiction.
On a front page of The Knightstown Banner a picture of the Prom candidates summoned visions of my youth. I went to my Junior Prom with my pal Jack Bundy. Our prom was held at the Shelter House at Sunset Park. Mother, a floral designer at Schatzlein’s greenhouse, made my corsage of sweet peas. I remember perfectly my blue formal that cost less than $20.
Would one really want to return to the pendulum swings of one’s teens? I didn’t have a date for my Senior Prom and spent the evening with Sarah Ward and Frances Cranfill. Times have changed: These days dateless girls might go anyway, but this was not the done thing back then. Mother cried in sympathy, and I thought that my life was blighted. Then came graduation, and I set forth to become the first woman United States Senator from Indiana or to write a great novel. (Have done neither!)
I understand how tightly people’s homes are woven into the fabric of their lives. As a Realtor®, I saw many people cry during the closing on their homes, including brawny men who went outside to cry when their deceased mother’s homes were sold. Seemingly trivial things can cause
tears. One client sobbed when I was listing her home because of her grandmother’s rose out in back. “Don’t worry; we’ll get permission for you to take it.
A few years ago, I brought closure to some unfinished business of my own. When I was twelve years old more than sixty years ago, mother and I dug up a bloodroot in the woods and planted it in her wildflower garden. After she married my stepfather, she took it to their New Castle home. Many years later, she gave the big bloodroot to Bill to be planted in our yard next to his Jack-in-the-pulpit.
We sold our Ritter Ave. home and closed in August. We had permission to take some plants with us, but Mother’s bloodroot couldn’t be found. I burst into tears at the closing, “Oh… I couldn’t find Mother’s bloodroot.” Mrs. Bittlelmyer assured me that I could come back and take a start from it.
The years passed without my going back, and I’d be filled with regret, especially after Mother’s death. Finally, one sunny day in May, I stopped on an impulse and asked Paula for a start of the plant.
Having blooms from a plant that Mother and I dug up sixty years ago brings a sense of completion and contentment. Now I understand that the bloodroot embodied not only my mother, but the old house and my neighborhood and neighbors. This was the home where we were young together, and where Vicki grew up. I remember every detail of it. and I shall never again love any home in the same way.
Out of a spoonful of tea, Marcel Proust’s French village of Combray and its people rose up before him like a set upon a stage. Knightstown was my Combray where places and people live on in my memory just as they were when I was young, and life was newly minted. Every year when May comes, out of the bloodroots bloom my mother rises up before me in my minds eye, looking just as she did the day we dug up the original plant.
THE MEMORIES STORED IN MY
A sound can hook onto a memory and pull its essence out of one’s subconscious. During the playing of “Pomp and Circumstances” when Vicki received her college diploma in 2010, I was back in what was later named the “Hoosier Gym.” I see us still, parading through the sweltering gym, using the hesitation step and receiving our diplomas from superintendent Rogers, “Old Eaglebeak,” whom my nephew’s generation dubbed “Chrome Dome.”
Many people react to the sound of a train and its whistle at night. I grew up half a block from the Big 4 railroad, and I still hear in my mind’s ear the chugging and hissing of the steam engine and the rattle of the boxcars that came through late at night when I was in bed and wondered whence it was bound. Here’s what Thoreau wrote in Walden:
All day the fire-steed flies over the country, stopping only that his master may rest, and I am awakened by his tramp and defiant snort at midnight, when in some remote glen in the woods he fronts the elements incased in ice and snow; and he will reach his stall only with the moring star, to start once more on his travels without rest or slumber…
I am refreshed and expanded when the frieght train rattles past me, and I smell the stores which go dispensing their odors all the way from Long Warf to Lake Champlain, reminding me of foreign parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical climes, and the extent of the globe. I feel more like a citizen of the world…
Some sounds no longer exist such as the clash-clash-clatter-whir of steel roller skates. In April Wanda Frazier and I buckled their straps and used a key worn on a string around our necks to tighten the clamps that clasped the skates to our shoes. sometimes a clamp came loose and a skate fell off, caussing falls that left us wailing with bleeding knees.
Another sound was that made by the stove truck. Many homes were heated by coal or oil stoves, When warm weather arrived my parents moved the stove to a corner of their bedroom and covered it with a throw.
I was sent to wheel home the clattering stove truck owned by Hopkins’ Furniture on Main St. The stove was positioned onto the heavy, iron, sledge-like contraption and rolled away. My parents bickered and yelled during this filthy, sooty process – especially in the fall when they had to reassemble the stovepipe and fit its ends into an elbow, the stove and the chimney.
Come Memorial Day, we sat at the round oak dining table and listened to the 500 on the radio. I remember still the commercials for Stark and Wetzel and the ditty advertising laundry soap, “Rinso White, Rinso White! Sing a little wash-day song.” My how times have changed!
Like clockwork, the male wren arrives in May, trilling his silvery song. Then Jenny Wren flies in and pokes the old wren house full of twigs. The male’s song brings poignant membories of my darling mother. “Listen: The wrens are back!” She’d exclaim.
I see her and hear her voice so clearly in my mind’s eye and ear. Sometimes she’s a vigorous woman in a housedress with her hair rolled onto a “rat.” Other times she’s frail, bent and elderly with a curly perm and wears a fleecy sweat suit. In all of her incarnations, Mother is so near and yet so very far away.
MOTHERS NEED A SENSE OF HUMOR
“M” is for the many things she gave me.
“O” means only that she’s growing old.
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me.
“H” is for her heart of pure gold.
“E” is for her eyes with love-light shinging.
“R” is right, and right she’ll always be!
Put them all together, they spell “Mother” –
A word that means the world to me
Bill’s sister-in-law, Esther, sang this song to irritate her daughters and let them know what was what. I can’t imagine my grandsons warbling that little ditty that we learned when we were kids. I suspect that they’d make retching noicses at the thought of it. Theirs is a much less sentimental generation. Mother’s Day was a very sentimental occasion when I was young. If one’s mother were living one wore a red carnation to church, and a white one if she were deceased.
Vicki and we fell to reminiscing about the irritating and/or funny things that parents put up with: Babies get into their diapers while they’re supposed to be napping and smear dung over everything that they can reach… They give each other horrible hair cuts… They lock themselves in bathrooms and can’t get out… Bill’s older brother, Lex, asked him if he’d like to know what it felt like to be hanged. “Well, I guess so,” replied Bill. Lex preceeded to hang him from a closet hook.
One Saturday Mother and I were on the Central Swallow bus, going to Indianapolis. A little boy who had a paper sack on his head was sticking his arm out the window. Concerned, Mother said, “Ma’am, your little boy has his arm out the window.”
“I don’t care! This has been the worst day of my life! First he poured a whole box of laundry soap in the washing machine, and bubbles went all over the kitchen. Then he got into the pie I’d baked for the chrch dinner. Next he cut off the cat’s whiskers. You’ll never guess what’s on his head. He jammed his potty on it, and I can’t get it off. I’ve already tried to find someone to cut it off in Spiceland and Knightstown, and now I’m on my way to Greenfield.”
Vicki took her little fishing pole and put a hook through the lip of her
Christmas puppy, “Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer-Dog,” an
obstreperous, stupid mutt. Traffic stopped, and people laughed while he frolicked along behind me at the end of the fishing line until we arrived at the home of a neighbor who had wire cutters.
Vicki cackled about the time that her little boys decided to make pancakes. Hearing their shrieks of delight, she discovered that they’d broken a dozen eggs on the floor and were sliding around in them. “I thought about spanking them, but they were too funny.”
One of my cousins picked the buds off my uncle’s prize peonies and stabbed the upholstery of her parents’ new car with a knife. “Did you spank her?” Mother asked my aunt.
“No, I might have killed her.”
Jean had a huge fight about an ugly, straw sailor hat with streamers that her mother insisted that she wear on Easter Sunday. They got into a screaming match until Jean’s quiet father finally sided with Jean. “We laugh about it now, but we certainly didn’t laugh then!”
Sometime the best of motherly intentions go awry! Our friend Jana, decided that she needed to interact more with her children. She had cozy visions of the happy family making Christmas cookies together. They didn’t want to make cookies. They fought and whined, and the kitchen was a mess. Exasperated, she decided that she was not going to be Mother of the Year.
She established a Christmas tradition of having the children gather round while she set of the Nativity Scene and explained its meaning. John and she discovered that their four-year-old son had put Baby Jesus in a matchbox car and was racing him around the Christmas tree. She said, “You know, I felt as if I had failed, somehow.” Personally, I suspect that He would have enjoyed it!
Help! My class reunion dinner is day after tomorrow! “Which one?” You ask. Whisper: “My fiftieth.” “YOUR FIFTIETH!’ “You don’t have to shout it for the whole world to hear!” Oh no! My fiftieth! Surely I’m not that old? I don’t feel that old. Inside I’m the same as I was when ol’ Eaglebeak handed me my diploma unless I see the underside of my chin when I dust a mirrored table. So what if I color my hair, leaving some white as befits my years?
I’m not old; I won’t be old; I refuse to be old.
Dither, dither, dither… Should I get a haircut, change the color? What to wear? WHAT TO WEAR?
I suppose everyone else has lost a bunch of weight.
Oh! Oh! Oh!
Should I dress up or down? Shall I show up in a power suit like I wear in my professional life as a businesswoman? Maybe I’ll wear my black jeans and pink and white striped clogs that look like men’s basketball shoes. That’d show them how youthful and zany and free and uninhibited I am. Is anyone really going to notice or give a damn?
They’ll know me because I haven’t changed a bit, of course; but maybe I won’t recognize them, and they’ll be offended.
Will the ones who snubbed me back then still snub me or should I snub them in remembrance of snubs past?
What can we possibly have in common? I haven’t seen some of these people since we graduated.
What to wear? WHAT TO WEAR?
To Hell with it, and to Hell with class reunions! They can like me or lump me! What do I care? I am a mature woman who’s grown past the unhappy events and follies of my youth.
I’ll call and say, “I forgot to check my calendar. We’re going to be in Paris then.” or “I’m having an emergency hysterectomy. So sorry!”
I’m going to have hysterics all right if I can’t find something to wear!
Since the reunion’s at the high school, there’ll be no alcohol. I’m not a big drinker, but perhaps I could sneak a flask into a restroom stall and get quietly inebriated.
Why do human beings have to have class reunions anyway? People are divided: There are those who love the camaraderie and the trips down
memory lane and those who’d rather have a root canal. The very mention of a class reunion summons forth not only the warm fuzzies of one’s good old days but also the pain of one’s bad old days. One of my nieces flatly refuses to attend reunions, saying: “They didn’t care about me then; why should I care about them now.”
My problem is that I have a 20/20 memory: I have forgotten very little – good or bad – that has happened to me during my lifetime. When I think about the past I’d prefer to look at it through the gauzy screen created by the intervening years rather than revisit it up close.