tucked in the spine of m.f.k. fisher i find scribblings for how to make brisket. bedded down in virginia woolf i find a love heart once ripped from a reporter’s note pad and wedged onto my windshield. the biography of dorothy day, for some reason, contains a motherlode: a check, uncashed, from long long ago; a construction paper anniversary card, now faded along the edge that peeked from the pages; the fresh-faced first-grade school picture of my firstborn; and jottings that tell the tale of a heartbreak borne long long ago.
apparently, i leave my life scattered in bits, buried in bindings, waiting to be exhumed at the flip of a page.
it is the paper trail of my heart. the dots unconnected. the ephemera of a life recorded in scribbles.
i never know what i’ll unearth, or when i’ll stumble upon, say, the train schedule that captured the breathtaking quote my little one spewed about his new jersey grandpa as we rumbled home in the amtrak sleeper in the fall of ’98.
or, sorry about this, the surgical photos documenting the removal of the womb that carried my children, two born, three heartbreakingly not.
each scribble is a passage, a dispatch, that matters. whatever it is that i jotted, it moved me deeply enough that i grabbed for a pen and put pulse to paper. whatever i’ve tucked in the folds of a book is something i can’t bear to lose. even when it hurts.
maybe it’s because i write for a living. but really, i think, i write to keep breathing. if i put it in ink, some brain cell tells me, i hold onto this moment, this thought, this jumble of words in ways that otherwise would not hold. life slips away, i have learned. what’s once in your fingers is gone.
so i scribble. i tuck. i leave paper crumbs. i save the story in snippets.
one christmas, long long ago, i wrote a letter to my whole family. one of my early opuses. poured out my heart. my father, an irishman who kept feelings furled, said only this: “you have a real sense of history.”
that was the last letter i wrote to my father; ended up being the letter they read at his funeral. my father, as always, was right (though i did not understand at the time): i do have an eye locked on history. i do watch it unfold. it’s almost as if one eye lives in the present, the other dwells in the future when what’s now will be the past.
were it not for the notes that i scribble, i would not however know this:
that on september 26, 1997, when my now big boy was just four, he said this: “mommy, i have to tell you a little lesson. when you get a little huffy, you need to calm down. that’s what daddy’s talking about when he says, ‘freddy, calm down.’ you could say sweetly, ‘willie, i’m feeling huffy. could you go out of the room for a little while?’ because when you’re huffy, i say, what the heck. why is mommy huffy? did i not clean my room or something? it makes me feel like i live in a house with no friends.”
or, how on october 4, 1999, an autumn when the first-grade playground for him was a very lonely place, he said: “my heart is open but no one wants to come in.”
or, how after saying prayers on the night of january 19, 2000, he looked up and said: “God must love it at night. i bet he waits all day for it to be night to hear beautiful music.”
i think, given the scribbles, given the puzzle they’ll all put together, i’ll never give up writing my story in torn bits of paper, tucked in the hushed resting places that wait on the shelves of my heart.
do you keep your story in scribbles? do you go digging for how to make chocolate fudge cake, only to find a phone number from long long ago? do the bits that you tuck in your books, or your pockets, leap out and replay some story long past?
Just last month I pulled my college copy of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility from the shelf because the book was assigned to my highschooler and out of it dropped a happy wedding picture of a former neighbor, her parents, siblinngs and groom. Now, 30 plus years later, she is divorced and remarried, her father has passed away, her siblings are married and she has many nieces and nephews who are themselves getting married. I felt I’d been hit with a timewarp. How apropos to find a wedding photo, with the future life revealed, in that particular book.For me, it is finding history tucked in the bottoms of inherited purses. A pen and holder of my mother’s. A folded plastic rain bonnet of yellow smiley faces that belonged to my grandma. A Sucret (remember those) in the zipper pocket to stiffle a cough at the concert or in church. Or, a monogrammed “hankie”. My grandma’s advice was “Never go anywhere without a hankie.”
We found notes written in Greek on thin yellowed paper slips in a bedside table inherited from a wonderful grandmother–the same one for whom our little daughter is named. We treasure everything with her handwriting on it.I too keep scraps. Sometimes I’m organized, after a fashion, and shove them all in a file folder, and when these are found it’s like opening a time capsule. I think, sometimes, that if I didn’t record things I wouldn’t remember them. I mean I know I wouldn’t remember them. But it’s sort of more than that. Maybe things would disappear from history, or anyway my history, if not set into the concrete of a yellow legal pad or a scrap of notebook paper. For that matter they don’t even seem fully to occur in the first place until, or unless, they are.I’ve never been sure if that’s a sense of history, or just the limitations of the brain in my head. But all those little notes sure yield a treasure when the particularly precious ones are found–thanks for sharing some of yours!
As a matter of fact, my recipe for the world’s best chocolate mousse comes from a fellow nurse from 2 west and calls for Frango mint shavings on top. I remember well sitting in her kitchen jotting it down.My counter is littered in papers and notes. It is maddening at times when I can’t find the particular scrap I am looking for, but I am past the point of change of habit and pile my notes neatly weekly and eventually some are kept and others recycled. My father was the ultimate scribbler. The thing I wanted most from his belongings was one of his yellow pads filled with his musings. Some were just phone messages, some were quirky sayings and some were poignant poetry about the end of the road.My husband is great at taking the notes with the funny things the kids say and typing them into the computer (he’s a much better filier than me).I imagine I will continue to jot and scribble and tuck and play this little game of hide and seek with my life.ENJOY
Oh gosh, how I relate to this manner of ‘recording’ life’s moments. It is why I write also, as well as photograph my family constantly; with that sense of history in the midst. In doing so, I feel like I take a moment to organize and record my observations and emotions. The ‘scrap-paper- method’ of recording meaningful moments or information is frustrating indeed, as my friend KD from NJ shared, but I too can not imagine doing it any other way at times. The counter-experience to its chaos is the wonderful surprise it can offer when you least expect it.I have saved every letter my grandmother ever wrote me when I went away to the very same college she attended in 1923. She wrote to me and I to her for almost every day for four years. What a beautiful ‘documentary’ of literature I have to share with my children capturing a period of history in my family. At times she wrote family news, other times bits of her own poetry, and always about her love for me.It pays to be sentimental, a pack-rat, and one who treasures the written word. Thanks for sharing.MH from Jersey
today’s entry is beautiful and meaningful. it reminds me of why life–and you–are so, so precious.
okay, all you jersey people are ganging up on me and my tear ducts. one of you had me marvelling at the term “hide and seek” of it all, putting it better than i had thought of it. but that is exactly what it is, the joy of bumbling upon it. suddenly falling into the time machine, as ol’ mr wizard used to put it. stopping in your tracks on your way to somewhere else. caught up in the seized serendipity of it all. the next one of you had me gasping at the notion of a letter every single day for four college years from grandmother to granddaughter. i can’t imagine a more treasured treasure. and then the last one of you, the jersey boy i call my own, well, i was swipin’ tears by the time i finished with him. who knew so many of us kept our keepsakes in bits? xoxox
My niece Anna sent me an urgent email asking if I had any information about Bronzeville – a project that required her and a St. Ignatius classmate to tour and create an exhibit about this history-rich Chicago neighborhood. Finally, my many years of “snipping articles” and tucking them into books had found meaning. Without hesitation, I was able to locate (in the Chicago section of my book shelves) multiple books about Bronzeville, the Great Migration, (including an all time favorite “The Promised Land” by Nicholas Lehmann), South Side Community Arts Center, Groveland Park, IIT, Stephen Douglas, Pilgrim Baptist Church (tragic and recent fire generated multiple articles – some penned by pulitizer prize winner BK) and stuffed in each of the books, long waiting for this project, were articles, book reviews, commentaries, and editorials clipped from a variety of newspapers, journals and magazines (many no longer being published). What fun to have these memories of past experiences, readings and history awaiting to be rediscovered by the next generation – and they were very useful on a most practical level.