The memory-bearer

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Time sustains you, holds you, owns you, finally kills you. You consume and transform time, wear it on your face, show it in your frowns, fears, and fancies. You eat time like bread or bitter herbs to grow muscle, tendon, tumor. Time savages the bones of soul and body, leaving you a cripple, hobbling toward your home of dust. Time lights a match to your anger, makes you laugh though no one else does, and brands you with memories that singe and sear your heart.

 

 

 

Time chooses you to be the memory-bearer, calls you back into the darkness of the past, and shines its constellations of memories as if you knew how to navigate by starlight. Without a guide, you memorize the past’s patterned skies: the pinprick stars that cast scant light and the blazing suns that illuminate every detail. You have long done the work of remembering; but now, remembering is not enough. You must turn and face the darkness behind you, forsake today’s light and trudge backward. You must wake the sleeping dogs and steal their bones.

 

 

 

Though time has left you stumble-footed, you must cross terrain that shifts its shape with every passing. You must walk alone, by faith not sight in a moon-forsaken land, unsure what you are looking for, dragging broken shards of time back into today, unwrapping the remnants of time saved in secrets, believing that if you can find enough pieces to patch together, you can be free of carrying someone else’s memories.

 

 

 

The compulsion to bear the memories and to write the stories you carry, like the belief that you are called by a voice only you hear, is a form of madness. Both writers and mystics live outside the city, less by choice than necessity, hearing voices beyond the walls in the wilderness, so near the dark woods.

 

 

 

I didn’t choose to be the memory-bearer for my mother. For over thirty years, we kept a distance measured in silence. The day the words came, they scorched my throat and burned my lips; but the saying hardened them like steel, strong enough to span the pain. In all times past that place, we walked together.

 

 

 

Mother, eight years dead, comes to me these days, wearing the face of morning, sits beside my bed, and whispers me awake to remind me of my task. I have grown weary with my own reluctance. I hear the voice and have long walked in that wilderness, but oh, I fear the dark woods.

 

 

Green-eyed exiles

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Once upon a time I was the size of a leprechaun and just as mischievous. I went to school with hundreds of children just like myself. On St. Patrick’s Day, you had to wear green or you would have to spend recess running away from little green-clad people intent on pinching you. Any other day of the year, you would be punished for tormenting one another that way, but on St. Patrick’s Day you could do so with abandonment.

 

My imagination didn’t respond to my inquiry about the source of St. Patrick’s Day pinching, so I had to search online. One source said it began in America in the early 1700s. Irish immigrants would have brought over the idea that green made you invisible to leprechauns, who apparently honored St. Patrick by pinching people. If you drink a few beers, it will start to make sense to you. Since America was under English rule during the early 1700s, I can imagine that the Irish enjoyed pinching their unsuspecting English neighbors.

 

I usually remembered to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, but even if I forgot, I felt protected because I had green eyes. That was the only day of the year I was happy about my eye color.

 

Both of my parents had blue eyes, as did my older sister, K. Besides the fact that for a while I took my eye color as proof that I was adopted, my mother often quoted this little ditty:

 

Blue-eyed beauty does her mother’s duty,

Green-eyed greedy gut eats the whole world up.

Later I would discover that two of my mother’s secrets were green-eyed: her first two children. Connie, the oldest, was in familial exile, her name not to be mentioned at home. Clyde, her brother, was working on a record, a discography of petty crimes. Since I shared the same eye color as the exile and the criminal, I assumed I would grow up to be like one of them.

 

I gave up on a life of crime at an early age after my father called the police about my tampering with the U.S. mail. You can read about it here. Since the age of six, I’ve been more or less a law-abiding citizen. But I have been an exile all my life. My family never banished me, but all of my life I have wanted to belong to that blue-eyed world. And all of my life, I have felt outside of it.

 

So, today, in honor of St. Patrick, the exiles from Ireland, and all who are looking for their one true home, I want to share a music video by Karan Casey and John Doyle called Exiles Return.  I couldn’t find all of the lyrics, but the chorus goes like this:

 

And though we bid farewell in sorrow

We may meet again in distant lands

And drink our health in joy for parting

When the Exile will return again.

 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Grown-up tattling

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My husband grew up in the Midwest, Land of a Thousand Kindnesses, and came from a family who speak kindly of one another. The first time I met his parents and five siblings, I was shocked. They reminded me of The Waltons, the popular TV family of the 1970s. At family gatherings when my husband’s family told stories about one another, everyone minded everyone else’s feelings, so at the end of their stories, you expected everyone to stand up for a group hug and one more family photo.

 

My family grew up in Texas, sometimes, but we moved now and then just to see if growing up somewhere else would make us any different. It didn’t. We were the people from Peyton Place no matter where we lived. The soap opera known as Peyton Place first aired in the mid-1960s, shocking some and entertaining others with its stories of divorce, infidelity, imprisonment, and revenge. Just like my family, except that our show ran every day, while Peyton Place only ran two or three episodes a week. At our family gatherings when we told stories, no one worried about anyone’s feelings, we told the most embarrassing stories about each other that we could remember and ended up rolling on the floor hooting and hollering, and sometimes snorting through our noses because none of us could believe the dumb things the others were capable of.

 

In my family teasing has always been a sign of affection, and our favorite way of teasing is to tell on one another. When you are a child, telling on someone means you are tattling: trying to win the favor of whoever is in charge, either to look good or avoid punishment. Our grown-up tattling is after the fact and has no other purpose than to point out the obvious: we be dumb now and again. And the more we tell the stories on one another, the kindlier we feel toward one another.

 

So when my husband met my family, he was shocked. It didn’t dissuade him from marrying me, however, because I made sure we were already married before he met them. (Note to reader: Contrary to what my family says, I’m not as dumb as I look and sound.)

 

If, in the telling of a story about a sibling, we see signs of embarrassment or hear attempts to explain or justify, that story will become a signature story, one we will tell again and again, every chance we get. Because that’s what love does.

 

My mother never took part in any of this teasing. Of the four siblings I grew up with, only two of us shared the same father. The other two had their own fathers, yet we all share the same sense of humor. Maybe mother was merely the carrier of the slightly off-kilter humor that manifested itself in her children.

 

Of course everything I have written up until now is just an excuse to tell on the two siblings that I know are still alive. One of these posts I will explain more about my known and unknown siblings. But until then, here’s me showing some love to my brother and sister.

My brother in a littler time

Brother story

Until my brother came along ten years after me, I was the baby of the family. Mother indulged him not only because he was the youngest, but also because he was a boy, something I had been expected to be, but failed. When he was five years old, we lived in military housing in Fort Wainwright, Alaska. One day when he was shopping with mother at the commissary, he asked for some strawberry preserves. Mother tried to talk him out of it and told him he wouldn’t like it because it had chunks of fruit inside, but he insisted. The next day she put the preserves on his peanut butter sandwich, and after one bite, he knew mother was right: he didn’t like preserves. Mother insisted that he eat the sandwich, and then left him alone in the kitchen. He pulled the two pieces of bread apart, thinking he might be able to salvage the peanut butter side. It, too, was ruined. I’m sure that we had a garbage can in the kitchen, and I know that my brother had seen people throw things in the garbage, so it wasn’t as if he didn’t know how to dispose of the bread. He must have feared that mother would see the uneaten sandwich languishing in the trash, so he did what any reasonable person would do. He picked up the rug in front of the kitchen sink, placed one slice of the bread on the floor, and carefully covered it with the rug so that it was hidden. Then he took the other piece, opened the basement door, and flung it down the stairs. After all, who would think to look there? He doesn’t remember if mother found the first slice before or after she stepped on the rug; he can’t remember any consequences at all. Since he was the youngest, there probably weren’t consequences.

One of the few days the world left my sister's hair alone

Sister story

As a young girl and teenager, my sister suffered from Tourette’s of the Hair. Most nights she lathered her hair in Dippity-do, wrapped the strands in pink pokey, plastic rollers; large, bristly, netted curlers; or soft, spongy snap-ons in the belief that she could make her hair bend to her will. More often than not, it didn’t. Some nights the hair wriggled out of the curlers; other nights the curlers twisted the wrong way. When she commanded it to flip up, it flipped down. Or if she ordered it to swoosh that way, it drooped the other way. This made bad words come of her mouth. She developed two theories based on her hair. First, she believed the world had an interest in how her hair turned out each morning. Nice hair displeased the world; it was completely and utterly against her quest to be the best tressed at school, and, in fact, wanted her to go to school with failed hair. Second, she convinced herself that the answer to obedient hair resided in the bathroom counter. She hypothesized that by striking the counter hard enough and often enough with a comb, brush, or curling iron, her hair would suddenly flip or swoosh the right way. It took a number of years and a pile of broken hair appliances before she accepted the fact that the counter was merely an innocent bystander. She told me later with some regret that she passed this problem onto her daughter. She is still working on the problem of the world being against her.

In the interest of fairness, I should include a story about myself. Unfortunately, I have run out of space. Really. If I write any more I will bump into those little icons under this sentence.

Potty Humor

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In spite of the post title, this is a family-friendly blog. Of course, I’m not talking about my family; I’m talking about yours. Families where older sisters don’t break the arms of little sisters who trust those older sisters. In those families, when the older sister lies down in the grass, bends her legs, and then tells the little sister to sit on her feet, the older sister pushes the little one forward. In a nice arc. And the little sister lands on her feet. Can you imagine a family in which the older sister tells the little sister to sit and then pushes straight up so that the little sister, bless her gullible little heart, lands on her arm, and it, along with her tender little heart, gets broken? I thought not.

I can almost hear the click, click, click of someone’s fingers typing a not very nice comment below.

Be that as she will, I wish I worked for the company in the photo below.

Hiney Hiders: We've got something to hide! So do you.

Internet friend: So, what you do?

Yearstricken: I  hide hineys for a living.

Internet friend: Pardon me?

Yearstricken: (face flushed with pride) I work for Hiny Hiders, and we’ve got your back covered! We are your #1 and #2 go-to place if you need to hide your hiney. And we are quick: we do not stall around and make you wait. Would you sit down on this little white stool while I go get a business card? Stop, internet friend, where are you going? Not there!

And finally, have you have ever wandered into a room and asked yourself, “What did I come in here for?” I do that all the time. Thankfully, whoever designed the bathrooms at my school put in this sign in case I get in the stall and forget what I came to do.

Helpful reminders: In case you forgot what you came into the room to do.

Please note: I realize this is a very low and somewhat crass level of humor, but my therapist says I shouldn’t worry about it since  I am still working through some very traumatic experiences I went through as a child with you-know-who.