Monday, August 29, 2016

Word of the Week - 130

Word(s) of the Week:  CONTEMPLATED LOSSES

On Saturday a Priority Mail package arrived from my 83-years-old stepmother.  It contained a letter, some current photos of deer nibbling on everything green in her yard and an album, with this description:

"I am sending you the enclosd because the fire at Lake Nacimiento is moving west (we smell it and sometimes see the smoke) and the folks on San Simeon Road are on evacuation alert.

"This photo album of Russ from babyhood to newspaper reporter and columnist was prepared by Russ and given to me one Christmas and I have treasured it.  But my feeling is that it really belongs to you and your sibs and I would feel terrible if, in the continuing drought and very long fire seasons, Cambria might be decimated and this album destroyed."

The album holds photos of my father, now gone nearly 22 years, that I'd never seen before, including the one above of a tiny fellow in a sailor-type suit, long before his naval enlistment in World War II.  I wept for the words in the letter, for the pictures never seen and the faces of my brother and his son, perhaps a bit of mine, so clearly present in the serious and smiling images of my father.

As of Sunday afternoon, I have not been able to reach her by phone, will keep trying and then send off a letter in the morning if that fails.  She tells of packing the car in preparation for evacuation notice, which it seems did not come.  Having been through that once myself, I am familiar with the sense of unreality and terror that comes with contemplating the loss of all material goods, the notion of sanctuary and home, the always uncertain whims of weather and chance.

She mentions also, during the description of California's more than 60 million trees dead from drought and bark beetles, that the five trees she and my father planted on their hilly lot have had to be chopped down.  "The two redwoods at the foot of the driveway are turning brown," she says.

That she felt the need to part prematurely with Dad's gift left me without coherent words to speak into the phone on Saturday.  Thinking of her on her own having to decide just what to save if word came to flee caused me to admire, not for the first time, how capable she is, how good at figuring things out.

Loss, the contemplation thereof if we must, and the memory of it, never leave us.  For too many, this will be the summer of smoke, of ash, of tears.  For some, it is a small, sweet-smiling boy and a book reluctantly surrendered to keep it safe.  May we be good stewards of this gift.


Melissa Green said...

Oh, Marylinn, how terrifying, stupefying, heart-wrenching. Your stepmother is to be admired completely. People in floods, hurricanes, fires, tornadoes can lose all they own. It doesn't seem 'lucky' to have time to pack, but it may be a slight sliver better than losing everything in a flash. How do you pack the car with sanctuary, safety, familiarity? And all the things that have to be left behind in emergencies. And haunt us, even though they may look like they are merely things--they have memories attached, and fingerprints, and the heartbeats of those we have lost. Objects are not inanimate if you know their stories. I'm so sorry your stepmother has to go through this. Sorry too that it reiteratres your traumatic time of getting-ready-to-leave.

But the joy of her gift to you--all those photos of your young father--how could you not have wept? A smiling, stalwart little boy in a sailor suit must cause you to learn, in part, who your father was all over again. He lived in the world in ways, in caught moments, in priceless 'captures' that you had no idea about, that no one remembers since the people that took the photos and the boy in them are long gone. But what an unimaginable treasure, to find him there, to know and be grateful that the camera remembers for us. That someone took care to put those stolen moments into an album. To save them. To collect them. To make a puzzle out of the man your father was, over time. Priceless moments. Priceless gift.

Sending love to you today, my dear friend, for those in Cambria, for the friends you've lost there and elsewhere. It is awful to hear the trees your father and step mother planted are gone. They will not come back. And all the thousands of acres reduced to ash--Mother Nature will insist that new trees will grow in their place, but no one we know will be there to see them grown.

In Book I of the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil wrote of 'lacrimae rerum' which I find hard to translate. In this passage, Aeneas gazes at a mural found in a Carthaginian temple (dedicated to Juno), which depicts battles of the Trojan War and the deaths of all his friends and countrymen. He is moved to tears to see them depicted in the historical moment which he has survived, and says "sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt" (trans. "There are tears for [or 'of'] things and mortal things touch the mind.").

There are tears as we remember. As we come across, as Aeneas does, concrete reminders of people we never stop mourning. The pain of all things lost, like embers, come to life again when we sigh over them. Life is not for the faint of heart. xoxo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - Thank you for your presence, your hand-holding through heart and words. It seems to me you've done fine with Virgil. At least I could remember and get the gist of "lacrimae" from those long-ago Latin classes. Tears may be the caution sign that tell us it is time to stop, feel, remember, even wonder. It is not the moment to soldier on regardless. Following that as a continuing practice just makes our hides thicker. The historical moment which we have survived. Thank you. xoxo

michelle ward said...

marylinn, what an astonishing gift to receive - the actual album, and the gesture....even more precious given the circumstances. praying for safety, and leaving here feeling gratitude. xo

Kass said...

What beautiful relationships you have - with the world and your family.
Touching post.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Michelle - Thank you. I believe that region is much safer than it was a week ago, I know they've re-opened Hearst Castle. As to the trees, the drought, for now they simply go on as-is, catalysts for the giving of something not even imagined and remarkable for so many reasons. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Kass - Thank you. What good fortune that this woman became our step-mother, step-grandmother to my son. Both she and my late mother share with him a fascination with movies, with theater, as she had been an actress and has some rich Hollywood stories to relate. The world and I are on much warmer terms than we once were. Time can heal so much. xo


Oh Marylinn . . . sequestered away as I am at the moment and for the next six days in the wilds of Capital Reef Park in Utah . . . I came into town, a ten-mile drive, to check my mails and discovered this most astonishing post from you. I want you to know that I am thinking of you and your step-mother. What a poignant gift she has given you and my hope is that it evokes good and enlightened things for you. I love you and miss you . . . I will be able to call just after Labor Day and will touch base with you then.

Love Love Love

Marylinn Kelly said...

Karen - Thank you and it's good to hear from you. I've not yet gotten back to leave comments on your earlier posts. I hope all is going smoothly. It was such a surprising gift, a feeling which might be described as looking at someone I'd seen but not known, those moments perhaps not held long enough for any but the camera eye to recognize them. More awareness, enlightenment, to come, I'm sure. I was so happy to see him as he wished her to see him. I look forward to your call. Be safe and well. xoxo

Charlotte Hildebrand said...

There was something ineffably sad about this post, a deep longing or love, i can't quite describe. It reminded me of my own mother, now deceased, who was independent, resilient but vulnerable, and oh so sweet. What a sweet gift your step-mother gave you. I hope she's okay. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Charlotte - At my rather advanced age (71) seeing never-before-seen photos of my father, youngish and relaxed (which was not a frequent state) did raise a sense of wishing it were possible to know our parents as people, the way they were known to their friends. I can only guess at the significance of this treasure and the difficulty with which my step-mother let it go. Your mother's qualities would cause a daughter to cherish her, likely experience moments of wishing she were still available, to talk, to comfort, to know more fully. And in just a few minutes I'll be phoning my step-mother. We arranged the call last night and she sounded in good, as she might say, fettle. Thank you. xo

Legs said...

I'm so glad to hear that your step-mother was ok after the grandmother lost everything she had in a fire and all during her life I would be with her and she'd see something on tv or in a store and it would remind her of something she'd lost.....she "bought back" lost things like little platters or vases and some prints....all little things we don't care much about unless we lost them too. I'm glad you have good and fond memories of your father and so glad you have the album and your son will have it one day

Marylinn Kelly said...

Lea - Thank you. I'm so glad Audrey didn't have to experience loss on that scale. I wish she hadn't gone through the worry and fear brought on by fire coming so close. On my son's 14th birthday, after holding out all day, for the fire began at sun-up, we had to evacuate to the gym of his middle school. There were 123 homes lost that day, ours not one of them. We were able to get back into our canyon about 7 a.m. with great relief. When our rental house was put up for sale several years later, we decided we were done with living in an area too often under threat. As to the album, that my father had saved the photos for so long to share as he did with his (third) wife caused me to see him differently. It seemed such an act of tenderness, as though he'd been saving himself for her all along. xo