Archive - Nov 2011
I’m still too tired to really write, so I’m going through the motions again. I search through my thoughts and the events of the day to find a thread to follow. This morning, I went to the dentist to have my broken tooth looked at. I will need a crown; no, not a lot to say there.
I drove to work after the appointment. The rush hour traffic was gone. The leaves have fallen off the trees on the side of the road and I can look a ways into the woods. It is deer hunting season. Nope, not a lot to say there either.
When I arrived at work, the parking lots were full. There were no spaces on the two side streets I sometimes have to park on when the lots are full. I ended up parking on a third street that I haven’t parked on before. Nope, that is another dead end of an idea.
It was a really busy day at work. Yet as I think of the projects I worked on, none of them are really wants that I feel I should write about here; another dead end.
In the afternoon, the rain came. Dark grey billowy clouds rolled along at a low altitude. I remember when I was learning to fly, getting a sense at estimating the altitude of the base of the clouds. These were low clouds, probably about twelve hundred feet. The rain came, and I drove home through intermittent showers and through lots of heavy traffic. That’s probably the closest I’ll get to a string of thoughts for today’s blog post.
At home, we had artichokes, fried cheese and French Fries. Afterwards, I retreated to my office to try and write. These are the results. So, I’ve gone through the motions, and I’ll paste the results on my blog. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be better rested and have more to say.
November is rapidly coming to an end, and it is clear that I won’t complete the fifty thousand words for NaNoWriMo. However, it has been a fun project and we’ll see what sort of long term impact it has on my writing.
It has been a long day at work and it is looking like this will be a long week, so instead of writing another installment of my experimental memoir, I’m writing just a quick note.
Not much else to say. I’m heading to bed early tonight and then going to the dentist tomorrow morning.
It was a foggy grey morning as I tried to get out of bed. Assorted aches and pains made it hard to get going and I was rushed when I finally got up. Our dog Wesley was playing outside. The neighbors’ dog, Avery had come over and the two were playing. This morning, a third dog was in the yard, an English Mastiff belonging to some other neighbors. I showered quickly and headed off to church.
On the way, I listened to a segment on the radio about a man who had lost most of his short term and long term memory. He had been an accomplished musician and researchers ran a set of experiments to find that while his ability to remember many things had been drastically diminished, his ability to remember music was only slightly impaired. They spoke about using this to help him put back together parts of his life, such as musical reminders to take medication or musical associations with certain people. This made me think of Peter and the wolf.
For the past month, I’ve been writing a lot about memory. I haven’t talked so much about remembering things other than words, events and facts, other that a brief literary reference to remembering a Madeleine. I’ve spoken about how people have complemented me on my memory and asked if I had a photographic memory. In many things, I do have a strong memory of facts and events, but my memory is not photographic, and I’ve had difficulties memorizing things by rote.
Musical themes are a different type of memory. They come back at odd times. The playful theme from Peter in the Wolf comes back to me as I write this. There is a song, by David Mallett that comes to mind as I write this as well. It starts off
I knew this place, I knew it well,
Every sound and every smell
The song leads me to another song, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer’s “Gentle Arms Of Eden”. The sounds and smells as memories of home.
One year, my spring term in college started on the Monday after Easter. I rode with some classmates from Connecticut out to Ohio. We stopped at lunch for our Easter Dinner, surrounded by truckers at a truckstop in the middle of Pennsylvania. I remember the colored Easter Egg that came with the meal. It was the first time I had dinner on a major holiday away from home. It seemed somehow bleak; incomplete.
My mind wandered to Easters at home. The small colored wicker basket filled with artificial green plastic grass, on which were placed various candies. I remembered one Easter when while we were at Church, our big white Samoyed dog, got into the basket. When we got home, he was multicolored in many pastels shades. It was disappointing to lose the candy, but it was funny as well. I thought that perhaps what was missing at the truckstop was the familial, but I now think there was something else missing.
Years later, Kim and I spent our first Thanksgiving together. We had been dating for about five months. Half way through that time, Kim’s mother passed away after a long battle with cancer. No one seemed up for the big traditional Thanksgiving gathering at Kim’s grandparent’s house. Kim and I went up to New Hampshire and had a nice Thanksgiving dinner at an Inn in Vermont. The food was very good, but there was also something missing there. In that case, what was missed most was Kim’s mother and the big family gathering around her. Yet there was also something else.
It came home to me this Thanksgiving. Kim’s parents had just returned from a trip abroad, and were not up for Thanksgiving dinner there. So, we had Thanksgiving dinner at a small local diner. This is a diner that Kim’s family has gone to for ages, and is one of the first places Fiona ate out at, as well as being the place she has probably gone out to eat more often than any other place.
The dinner was good; nothing to complain about but nothing to rave about either. Again, something was missing. I didn’t realize what it was until we had home baked Thanksgiving dinner a couple days later. Walking in the house, you were overwhelmed by the smell of the turkey that had been baking in the oven for hours, mixed with the whiff of pumpkin pies that had been baked earlier. Memories are more than just thoughts and words. They are sounds and smells.
At dinner this evening, I spoke with Fiona about music. We talked about key signatures and time signatures. We looked at staves and notes and talked about their names.
(For those just joining in, this month I've been writing an experimental memoir as part of National Novel Writing Month. Today's entry includes political commentary so I'm sharing it more broadly.)
It was a period of prosperity and protest. I would sit in the hard wood pews of the big white First Congregational Church and look out over the quad to the student union of an ivy league college. It was the world I grew up in. In the evenings, on our small black and white television, we would hear Walter Cronkite tell his viewers how many U.S. troops had died in Vietnam that day. A few years later, he would be telling us about how many U.S. students had died in the United States protesting that war. Yet Vietnam and Kent State were worlds away to an elementary school kid raised by fairly conservative parents.
We were still going to church in those days. My mother would bake bread for communion. This was the Protestant style of communion, with grape juice in little shot glasses and small cubes of bread my mother had baked. Years later, my father left the church because of its opposition to the war in Vietnam. He had a square peace sign on the back of his truck proclaiming Peace thru Victory and had supported Barry Goldwater.
At Thanksgiving, we would sign hymns, like “Now thank we all our God, with heart and hand and voices”. We would sing about gathering together to ask the Lord’s blessing. On our way home, we would sign about going to Grandmother’s house, even though there were no snowy woods to go through.
It was a world of Robert Frost and Norman Rockwell. It was a world where the pilgrims looked large, and many could trace their families back to the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Traditions were strong and important. We were not like the well off families living in town. We lived up on the top of Henderson Road, a ride from town. Later, it would make it more difficult taking the late bus home from band, which would drop me off a mile and a half from my house. I would wear cast off clothing, from older brothers or friends in the church with older kids. We would shop the Women’s Exchange for used clothes for the kids and at factory outlets that were really part of an old factory, and not a trendy shopping mall.
Kids used to make fun of me for what I wore, but that too, just seemed like part of daily life.
At Halloween, we would dress up in whatever costumes my mother could make and visit our neighbors. Several were elderly and it was an important time for them to have visitors. I kept trick or treating for years, partly just because I knew it was important, and I would sit down and talk with them as they offered me an apple. At some point we started trick or treating for Unicef. Living on a poor section of the hill, we didn’t bring in as much as my friends who lived downtown near the nice houses, but it was important for each of us to do our part.
When Thanksgiving came around, we would get a little envelope at church that we would bring home. It was very much like the pledge envelope that we would put our nickels and dimes in for church. Back then, it was important for even young folks to learn to give a little bit back to their church and to their community.
Yet the envelope that we would bring home was different. We would save it until Thanksgiving Day, and then open it. Inside would be five kernels of corn. We would open the little envelopes and hear about how the early pilgrims had had to ration food and were unsure if they would make it through the winter. We would hear about how through hard work, cooperation, and through kindness shown to them by the natives they made it through the winter. It was a time of moral stories around the family table.
Thanksgiving was not about opulence and abundance, it was about survival, and although I never thought of myself as coming from a poor family, uncertain about where the next meal came from, it was part of my family history. My father’s father had died when my father was twelve and they face difficult times. My mother had lived through The Depression on a small New England farm beside the Connecticut River. The second hand clothes I wore were simply the way everyone got clothes, I thought.
Looking back at those days from today’s lens, it seems so different. Some have started to point out that Thanksgiving is not a day for Native American’s to be thankful. The settlers brought with them disease and war and wrecked havoc on Native American life. Others have drawn contrasts between what happened when the Europeans came to North America and people trying to enter our country today.
Yet it seems as if the key point of the debate is being missed. Those pilgrims facing hunger and possible death, as represented by the five kernels of corn, survived because the people already in the land helped them out. Perhaps we should be more like those Native Americans, and instead of building a larger fence, and passing laws to make it more difficult for the new comers to our country, we should be helping them out.
Likewise, the five kernels of corn should be a reminder for us to be thankful, not for the new flat screen television that we had to fight for Thursday evening amidst a large crowd of shoppers, but for the simple sustenance we receive in difficult times.
Connecticut soup kitchens, which provide today’s equivalent of five kernels of corn, lost food to spoilage as a result of the power outage. The needs for food of the hungry increase in our state even as donations go down.
On Thanksgiving Day, I saw a tweet from a church in Bridgeport, inviting anyone and everyone who would be thankful for a hot meal to come enjoy a free Thanksgiving day feast, complete with roast turkey and all the trimmings. I retweeted the message because it occurred to me that the meal in the church hall in Bridgeport would probably be closer to an authentic Thanksgiving meal that the large feast immortalized in the painting by Norman Rockwell.
My mind wandered to those dour old Pilgrims who came to this country out of love of God, and not the love of money that dominates so much of the political discourse. I thought of those who knew that the key to survival was the ability to cooperate with one another and help them out, and not to take advantage of ones neighbor. I thought of those for whom giving back to their community was a Godly responsibility.
Where have we gone wrong? My idyllic childhood faded as my parents separated. Some blame the demise of the American family on our decline; the lack of dinner time discussions about five kernels of corn. That seems a bit facile and incomplete. What caused the American family to decline in the first place? Even if that is the case, what can we do now to revive our country?
I talk with my kids at the dinner table, and I’m sure they roll their eyes as much as I rolled mine when I was their age. We no longer have Walter Cronkite telling us all we need to know about the days’ news, and perhaps we need each of us to tell the news. Perhaps Walter Cronkite and the dinner time discussions are merging into a new form, the blog post. Yet I look at a lot of the blog, and I’m not so sure.