The Things We Keep

You know my propensity to dodge in and out of rabbit holes. I think I was born that way. It does not take much for me to veer off course from my planned activities for the day. Today was no different.

As I sipped my coffee, I glanced up and saw the small oriental plates in my china cabinet. They are always there but I do not ‘see’ them every day.

The plates were a gift from MK, a woman I met in Alaska. I cannot recall now the occasion for which she gifted me the plates.

MK was a large gregarious woman with flaming red hair. Her voice was gravelly from years of smoking – her laugh contagious. She and her husband married late in life, a first marriage for both of them.

One day I found out she was in the hospital. We talked on the phone. She was scared as they were prepping her for emergency surgery. The doctors were positive she had terminal colon cancer.  She phoned her sister and asked her to come and be with her, but she said she could not come. She was enrolled in adult college classes and she did not want to miss her finals. It broke her heart.

I was there when she came out of surgery. I stayed with her until the anesthesia wore off. I never saw her reclusive husband or any other family. I combed her matted hair, coaxing the knots out with care. She thanked me and wept.

When the doctors came in, they told her there had been no cancer at all. This seems unfathomable now, but this was in the mid 70s – diagnostics are much improved now. She was relieved of course, but weeks of trauma from worrying had taken a toll on her.

We lost touch over the years. I have researched and know her husband died 13 years after they married. She lived another 15 years after. I wish we had not lost touch.

I keep the plates. I am not sure anyone in my family know their relevance. Some may wonder why I keep them. They have no intrinsic monetary value.

To me they tell a story of a wonderful lady who I had the pleasure of knowing for a brief time in my life. She was kind. She was funny. She was my friend. I treasure my memories.


In Search of Aunt Lizzie

Aunt Lizzie lived at the top of the steepest hill in the Valley. The half-gravel half-dirt road leading to her two story white clapboard house crisscrossed the hill to reduce the steep incline. Of course, in 1906 when the house was built, there were no cars but it would have made it much easier for both humans and horses to climb as well.

I was never sure why I called her my aunt. I guess because it seemed everyone referred to her as Aunt Lizzie. When my sister needed a costume for the school play, she borrowed one of Aunt Lizzie’s long  dresses. Likewise, when I dressed like a witch one Halloween, my grandmother had me go to Aunt Lizzie’s to borrow a long black dress. Of course it was much too long, cinched up with a belt, but it fit the bill nicely.

My earliest memories of Aunt Lizzie are sometime around 1962 after her husband passed away. I was about eight-years-old when I started going to her house. By this time, her bed had been moved downstairs to the living room as she was in her late 70s. I remember the bed well. The mattress appeared somewhat lumpy although always made to perfection. The small bed with its rounded metal headboard was tucked into a corner away from the front window where a view of the entire Valley came into view.

The front window was silhouetted by faded white lace curtains. An old wing back chair sat beside the window across from a small black and white television. It was there Aunt Lizzie sat every afternoon and watched her “stories” – a common reference to the old soap operas. I can still remember the intros for Guiding Light and As the World Turns playing on the small black and white screen.

Of all the houses in the Valley, this is the one house I recall visiting frequently. I would trudge up the hill, step onto the front porch and tap on the screen door. Sometimes Aunt Lizzie would be napping and I would just let myself in and wait for her to wake. Most of the time, however, she was already seated in her chair by the window. I would sit near her and watch her stories with her. I cannot imagine what we talked about, a 77 year old woman and an 8 year old girl.

Sometimes Aunt Lizzie would ask me to get her something from the small kitchen at the back of the house. She often had a small pitcher of water on the sideboard and sometimes a cookie to share. Those were the only rooms I ever entered. I would often stare up the grand staircase and wonder what beautiful things must be in those rooms no one ever saw. I imagine if I never saw them then surely no one else had either.

Last night my curiosity piqued. Exactly who was Aunt Lizzie? With the help of Ancestry, I dug into her background, working backward. Surprisingly, I discovered she was my Aunt. More specifically, she was my Grand Great Aunt – a half sister to my paternal Great Grandmother. Her name change after marriage is what made me think we were never really related. It made me wonder if my grandmother (her niece) sent me to check on her or take things to her. If she did, those memories have escaped me.

I try not to be regretful looking back. She may have known all the stories about what life my Great Grandmother lived and why her family ran my Great Grandfather out of town. If only I had been older and knew more and if I had been more curious. I am still content, however, remembering that 8 year old girl sitting in that huge house at the top of the hill, watching Aunt Lizzie’s stories taking for granted the view splayed just outside the window.


Memory is a Curious Thing

I lost my mom when I was just 19 years old. That is a relatively short period of time to know a parent.

My early memories of my mother are sparse and sometimes I question if I actually remember certain things, or if I am actually recalling the stories or home movies of those events rather than the memory.

I was thinking about a blog series entitled “In Search of My Mother” to see if I could recall other things, but right now I fear it would be a very short series.

I loved my mother very much. I went through a long period of time when I was angry at her for dying. I want to travel back beyond those painful years, but I am not sure how to proceed. I am envious of people who have so many wonderful and close memories of their mother from a very early age.

I have very vivid early memories of my grandfather and my dad, but not my mom. Is that because as children we are closer to the parent of the opposite gender?  Or is it simply because we had closer relationships?

So, I am curious if you care to share with me. It might help me unlock my own mysteries.

If you think back, what is your earliest memory of your mother? How about of your father? What age were you and why do you remember the situation?


Throwback Thursday #43 – Sensory Memories

Welcome back to Throwback Thursday. Perhaps there is no stronger memory trigger than a sensory experience. Those are the things we hear, sense, or smell, that take us back to aother place and time.

If you care to join us, it’s easy.

  • Write your own post sharing your memories and leave a pingback to this post in the comments.
  • You can use the photo above in your post to make it easier to find.
  • Tag it with #TBTMemory or #IRememberWhen.
  • If you do not wish to write your own post, feel free to tell your story in the comments below.

This week’s prompt is: Sensory Memories

Memories can be so powerful, and we all experience certain things that trigger those memories. Sit back and be aware of your senses. Think about the songs, smells, tastes, or sounds that evoke strong memories.

You can either free write using these questions as inspiration or answer the question as they are.

  1. Do certain smells bring back memories for you? Maybe a flower, or a perfume, or the smell of a certain food cooking? If so, can you share one such memory?
  2. Have you ever sensed a strong smell that reminded you of someone only to realize the smell was not actually present? How do you explain that?
  3. What song immediately whisks you back to another place and time? Share a YouTube video, or name the song and tell us about the memory.
  4. Is there a taste that reminds you of a person, place or memory? Does that food happen to be one of your ‘comfort foods’?
  5. Have you ever been somewhere new and immediately felt at home as if you have been there before?
  6. Have you ever experienced déjà vu? If so, how do you explain it?
  7. Are there sounds that remind you of another place and time? (Something like a clock ticking, a train whistle, a horse galloping, gentle rain, etc.)
  8. Do certain textures or colors trigger memories?
  9. Do certain stories, books, or poems remind you of someone from your past?
  10. What sensory stimuli surrounding you and your present environment do you think might evoke memories of you for your family or friends?

My post follows.

The smell of honeysuckle whisks me right back to the little valley where I grew up. If I close my eyes, I can almost smell the summer rains as they moved across the mountains. It is a smell I do not encounter often, but when I do, I am right back at home.

I often notice the smell of fresh ground coffee in the strangest places – my car or in my house when no one is up yet. It always reminds me of my dad and that makes me happy. I like to believe it is him dropping in for a visit.

My family often camped all summer in a local campground which I have written about several times. I had so many wonderful memories there. Most of the classic Creedence Clearwater songs remind me of those summers. This is one that makes me think of my summer love I found in an unlikely place what seems like a million years ago:

I LOVE black walnuts. As a kid we had trees all around us. My grandfather would take the nuts that had fallen from the trees still shrouded in their green husk and lay them out to dry. Once dried, the husks would be removed and the nuts stored for future use. My grandmother made a one-egg cake with a black walnut glaze which I have finally been able to reproduce! The taste of black walnuts make me feel like I am sitting back in the dining room at my grandmother’s house.

The sound of a distant train whistle also reminds me of the Valley where I grew up. Air brakes on a semi remind me of my other grandmother’s house who lived near the highway. I always found that to be a very lonely sound.

I have a strange reaction sometimes if I am traveling in a car at twilight. It is an almost sad feeling and I have never been able to figure out why. I have often wondered if it reminds me of something sad that I cannot ever fully recall.

I used to get feelings of déjà vu quite often. It has been a very long time since I experienced those feelings. I have read they decrease with age so perhaps that explains it. I have no idea what it is, but I always felt as if it was very real and very perplexing.

My mother used to read us poetry and I in turn read the same poems to my children. Those classic poems like Annabell Lee, The Wreck of the Hesperus, and Abou Ben Adhem always remind me of my mother.

The only time I have experienced an inate sense of belonging are here in these mountains. I have always been mysteriously drawn to Ireland, but I am not sure I will ever make it there to see if I feel that sense of home like I think I would.

I am a lover of memories. I think with age and lots of processing, I tend to only recall good memories for the most part. The bad ones still exist of course, but I do not give them time and space in my world.


Mam-Maw’s House

If you are a frequent follower, you know I love to write about the nostalgic moments in my life. I have posted a photo of my grandmother’s house several times. It is the house I associate with the best years of my childhood.

My father was an only child. When we moved to Ohio, my grandfather had already passed away. My grandmother was later diagnosed with lung cancer. There is a long convoluted story related to how my father lost his birthright to his uncle – my grandmother’s brother. It is a sad story which I will not get into here, but I know it to be true. I found all the associated legal documents in my genealogy search. It was the heartbreak my father never recovered from. But enough about that.

This house was magical to me. It is where my father was born and raised. It is where he swore he saw little green martians one night. It is where his mother disciplined him with a garden hose. I know the scar in the wood of the stairwell came from a misfired gun. I know behind the walls upstairs, there are fireplaces once used to heat the house.

It was on the hearth where my grandfather roasted chestnuts at Christmas. I learned about the magic of graphite watching my grandfather repair the push button locks in the front door. I imagined how the house would have looked when the French doors leading to the dining room would actually open and close.

The closet under the stairwell is where I discovered boxes and boxes of crepe paper, leftover from a time when my grandmother made paper flowers. I could imagine her as a young woman knowing what she enjoyed doing. In her bedroom was the cedar chest that held her dresses and the drawer that kept her jewelry and silver dollars hidden from sight. In the room next to her bedroom was where she kept all the momentos her grandchildren made for her. It was where her glass hypodermic needles were stored along with a handful of thermometers. All leftover from her work as a nurse.

In the bedroom upstairs is where we crawled into my grandfather’s room while he napped trying not to wake him. We tried to get a taste of the sugar and cinnamon mixture he kept by his bed in case he had a nighttime cough.

In the bookshelves in the hallway is where my grandmother kept a newspaper article showing a photo of a cloud formation that looked like Jesus. She had it in between the pages of a book for safe keeping. It is also where she kept the book of poetry that now sits on my bookshelf.

In the adjacent bedroom is where my father stored his t-squares that my brother and I used for guitars. It is also where my parents worked on the jigsaw puzzle of a young girl praying with a golden halo around her head.

In the third bedroom is where I accidentally broke the 78 rpm record of “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen”. I was devastated to see how it made my grandmother cry. It is also where I took apart my grandfather’s old pocket watch to see how it worked. In the closet is where a stray Easter egg was lost and not found until the smell revealed its location months later.

A house is a structure that holds memories. When the house changes hands, the memories only remain for those blessed to have experienced them.

Can you mentally walk through a childhood house and recall the memories?