I learned last week my old job in North Carolina is open again. I read that on the day I took a visiting Raleigh friend, one of the several I miss so much, to the airport. My mind flitted to I could go back. And then it roared back home. Where would I take visiting friends? Not to the rain forest in the rain. Not to see the bright green sea urchins waving just under the surface of low tide in the rocks out in the Pacific ocean.
Not to the mountains we didn’t get to because there wasn’t time (and they are still under snow cover), but next time we will. Not down the woodland trails out my front door. Not to my beautiful garden. And who would come to visit, anyway?
And, of course, there is Elliot.
Laura and Mama got along famously. Most people do think she the best thing since the mountains were formed. I expect she sometimes thinks she got short-shrift in the daughter department when others pay attention to her, while my sister and I mostly just put food in front of her, impatiently listen to her complaints, and manage her living while letting her think she is in charge. She is a southern girl, though, she brings out her best for company.
In a breakfast conversation between Mama and Laura, Laura—who lost several family members far too early—lamented the fact that she doesn’t have anyone to authenticate her memories. Each family member remembers events slightly differently than the others do, and we fill in each others memory blanks. When family members are gone, layers of our memory die with them.
Mama said, “It’s like a spider’s web.” I rolled my eyes. How the hell is it like a spider’s web? Why do I find myself embarrassed by things she says? Where do I think my own love of metaphor came from? She is quietly brilliant, really, but that is rarely my knee jerk reaction to things she says. I am ever the antagonist, if only in my head. But dear Laura—who, in my defense, doesn’t hear the nine truly crazy things Mama says to each one brilliant thing—got it right away. A real conversation—the kind Mama and I never have—ensued.
“It is like a spider web!” Laura said.
Huh? It is?
“The strands connect and make the memories whole and strong. We each have our own contribution. Our stories differ because we have our own perspectives based on our how old we were and what details were important to each of us at the time. Our strands are woven together to make a sturdy web. My strands are just kind of waving unsupported in the wind.”
Well, what do you know? Exactly so. I’m not sure Mama could have articulated how it was like the web she saw in her head. That’s what conversation is, though, and Laura got it, while I did not. She listened, she heard, she filled in the blanks in Mama’s cognition.
“This house is a strand in the web, too,” Laura said. She’s right. All these old possessions that make up what I see as clutter help corroborate my memories and bear witness to the life of the family who once lived in this house. (There is also a lot of clutter.) Laura took a dozen photographs of the badminton rackets (“of course the net is still here”); my father’s fancy hard hat, a gift at retirement; my life-sized “walking” doll, Mary Jane, in the tiny space under the stairs my sister and I used as a playhouse; the suitcase that was one of the first gifts my father gave my mother; the door sign my sisters and I gave our dad for his workshop door. Most of the things she found were proof that my father had once lived here and children were once small. My mother’s things—like the warped Revere Ware that wobbles on the burner and the dented measuring cups and faded canisters—are still in use and stored in the kitchen cabinets. Laura didn’t find them for documentation.
I had planned Laura’s schedule to be out of the house as much as possible. Laura had her own agenda: she wanted to spend time with my mother. I need to have more guests. I need to stop thinking I need to protect them from Mama when they do come. Different perspectives are good for all of us. It adds to our strands and strengthens our web. I need to be more like Laura, and learn to hold my mother with arms not full of baggage.
Just as I am glad to have grown up in a place I longed for every one of the 36 years I was away, I’m grateful, at least most of those away years, to have been in a place I miss a little bit now that that part of my life is over. I’m glad I have good friends to miss. It was a long moment in time I wouldn’t trade. But it is right here I want to be. Back here picking up the strands of the early years and weaving them into a fresh web with memories at its center. I won’t be applying for my old job.