May 18, 2012
I Will Remember You
The first event started years ago, when my father wrote his Navy memoirs. After that project was complete, he interviewed his siblings and wrote down memories of growing up. Both times, he ask me to edit the work, and I helped arrange the bits of memory into a narrative structure without substantial revision, not wanting to meddle with the voice. Both memoirs came with photographs. I'll get back to this later.
Next, my partner started telling me stories about his maternal grandparents. They died nearly a decade ago, and he still gets tears in his eyes when he talks about them. I had the germ of an idea; perhaps someday we would go and visit the cemetery where they were laid to rest and he would tell me more stories about them. These reminiscences included a trip to my basement, which houses an impressive collection of objects I hope to photograph and write about someday. Beloved grandparents, stories, photographs. Stories, pictures. A pattern? Of course.
During the visit, someone dragged out an old green and white striped box with a manuscript in it. Back when manuscripts were submitted by mail (gasp!), it wasn't unusual for the writer to ship the manuscript in the box from which the paper originally came. I started reading the manuscript in the living room at the assisted living home, while the children pinged around trying not to step on their grandpa's thin green oxygen tube. (While I was reading, the other adults discussed grandma's fairy collection. Fairies, fairies, everywhere. Statuettes, mostly, enshrined and sacred, and staring down all around me.) I wasn't expecting much from the manuscript. Most manuscripts are bad, especially mine. When I started to cackle in delight, the elders started to glow, and by the end of the visit, the manuscript was sent home with me so I could finish reading it. Grandma threatened my life if any harm should come to it while it was in my care.
My partner sent out a call for photographs from his extended family, and then it was Mother's Day and plans came together. We would be out of town for the actual day of Mother's Day, but he would buy a card, and we would go to visit, bringing: 1) the original manuscript, thankfully undamaged by the Staples Copy Center; 2) the Shutterfly picture album, which ballooned to a hefty price for100 pages of photos featuring four generations, assembled in part during a meal at Panera Bread between other engagements; and 3) a special surprise for grandma.
Mirabilia Designs), which has been custom framed and hanging on my wall for about fifteen years. I call this "thread-based paint by numbers", but I acknowledge that it takes some skill to do well, especially on even-weave linen. It also takes quite a bit of time. This design took me about a year, from the time I stretched the linen onto the stitching frame, until I got the finished piece home from the framer.
I'm going to give it to grandma. She's eighty-nine years old, and she still thinks she's in her twenties, and she loves fairies. I hope she'll be ok with us hanging this up on her wall in her assisted living apartment, and that it will give her some comfort knowing that she is well regarded. I imagine how she'll sit in the common room with the thick album in her lap, holding court, as the other ladies examine the hundreds of photographs of her son and daughter, of her two grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. She'll receive these gifts tomorrow, for a belated Mother's Day gift, and afterward, my partner and I will go have a picnic with the other grandparents, the ones who are gone, but not forgotten. I'll write about the picnic tomorrow, when I come home.
Because I want my elders around for longer, as selfish as that sounds. I want these people to stay here on earth as long as they can, and tell me their stories so I can write them down, and burn them into my heart, and help get them into libraries, and the artifacts into museums. If you think libraries and museums don't want your old photos, your memories of wars and lifestyles past ... well, you're wrong, and I have proof. My dad's words are sitting in the library of the town where he was born, lovingly preserved by those who care very much about remembrance.