Saturday, December 1, 2012
so think I will
I came home from Pennsylvania this time with a whole box of old photographs: family, friends, familiar places not quiet as they are now, animals I never knew. I took what I wanted. There were so many, lovely old pictures that my mother had in shoe boxes, up on the shelf in my father's closet; pictures her mother kept, or that my father's mother had. Some of these were as familiar as the faces in them. I don't know some of these others at all.
We sat, my mother, father and me, at their kitchen table and looked through box after box, or rather, Mum & I sat, my Dad had an easier time just standing there, one hand on a chair-back. He told stories for his, she for hers. Sometimes it was the same story, told together or twice, but changed. I saw my Dad in his uniform, my mother besides him. He was for Korea in that one. She was lovely; delicate and dark-eyed and shy. They were so lovely, and so young.
My grandparents were in those boxes too -- both sets, and smiling in some of these, which they didn't much in pictures then. Here's dear old Aunt Dolly, really my great aunt, and a genuinely jolly soul! I have her now, dancing with my laughing mother, and in another, sitting in her sister's kitchen, as she did every day, this one in summer and the fan rattling a breeze up Dolly's skirt. What fun she was! How we loved her, every one of us. And here she is, and with dark hair, her face unlined, a revelation, her bounce at full force, no sadder than a jay.
That's the revelation I brought back: all that youth, not lost but quite nearly forgot, or never seen by me anyway. Here's my father slim as a bean, astride a pony, in an old flat hat or wrestling a little pig up out of a pen and his mother laughing. Here's my mother in "a formal" with her hair swept up and with a corsage at her tiny waist. My maternal grandparents honeymooning, a picture I never knew, or my paternal grandparents, in winter, tiny figures all in black, photographed at some distance, nothing around them but white.
There is an artless beauty to some of these: a striking composition now and again, the strangely beautiful effects of faded Kodachrome, the small flaws and spots, the rickrack edges on some old prints, some pretty cardboard frames. Here's a colt as bright and pretty as a new penny, and the long, strange shadows passing her across the frozen ground. There is an obvious irony in the age of these objects, in dimmed surfaces that preserve younger faces and supposedly simpler times. How is my childhood has the color of summer clouds?
Or is this all too pretty? I don't, as I say, know everybody in these pictures, but I know most. What I know of this or that one, of a least favorite relative or a ramshackle house, is not always the comfort I would have from this review of days gone by. That's another obvious consequence of seeing, but being able to see only so far, into the past, even into my own; generally, we bring out of it only what we went back looking to find.
And so what if we do? What if all I want tonight, just now, is some bright square of childhood or youth? What of it? Are we not entitled to just our better memories, now and then?
"When I was young? -- Ah, woeful WHEN!
Ah! for the change 'twixt Now and Then!"
I might otherwise tonight be looking through a very different album, not from childhood and back, but forward a little, to my own youth and young manhood. I might be staring at pictures of Peter. I might be listening to sad songs. I might be drunk, if I drank.
I think now I might be better off drunk.
Truth be told, what's wanted tonight is company I can't have. Youth is what's wanted! Boys! Chattering and gossip and pointless gay banter, that's the sound I miss. Coltish, ass-rolling, smoking, braying, boorish, bright Peter, my Pete. What I want isn't all these pretty snow scenes and happy family. No. What's wanted, every December first, is the show, the funny, foulmouthed, gay good times that will not come again.
"Ere I was old? -- Ah woeful ERE,
Which tells me, YOUTH'S no longer here!"
This is the worst poetry does for us, you know, answering to our worst instincts, setting tunes for our sentimentality and indulging our sadness, jumping it up for us into universals we can't quite muster ourselves. What shameful nonsense I'm talking tonight anyway, and then here's Coleridge to moan over me and my old bald head, and my fat old ass, and all the charms of my youth, fled.
But it's not my youth I mourn tonight. Or if it is, then it's more his than mine. I never wore mine very well. He wore his OUT! I look at all these other faces, my parents and theirs, my brother and sister, myself as a baby, and I see us all as we were later as well. My parents, I'm grateful to say, I saw just a month ago, and old, yes, but delightfully, happily alive for that. I saw all but one of my grandparents out of the world, and knew them as long as I was lucky to, and know my brother now, happy enough, with a good woman, and fat as me. There's my sister, with troubles now as many as the hairs on her head, but alive. There's my beloved husband, dear A., just upstairs.
Old friends I still have. New friends I've made since. These I can see, or hear, or at the very least know them still alive. But not you, Sweet Pea, my Pete, not you.
Try as I might.
Poetry's comfort. Pictures can lie. I can lie to myself and say I see you still, but I can't, try as I might.
I can make whatever little sense this does. I still make no sense of the loss of you.
Grateful as I am for memories, friends, family and the rest, I'll dream with Coleridge. No one better.
"But SPRINGTIDE blossoms on thy Lips,
And Tears take sunshine from thine eyes!
Life is but Thought: so think I will
That YOUTH and I are house-mates still."
The night's yours. Come if you can.