On to Chapter 2 of Liz Lamoreux’s Inner Excavation: Exploring Your Self Through Photography, Poetry and Mixed Media.
Chapter 2 is titled “I Seek…” She prompts us to seek clues from the past: where do we come from? Where are we? Where are we going? Liz writes that “through the senses, we can tiptoe into memories and suddenly find ourselves unearthing aspects of a moment we never thought we would remember.”
As I get older (and wiser?), I am more interested in the stories of those who came before me. Looking through some old photo albums for pictures of me to compare my young face to the almost-identical face of my daughter (uncanny really!), I was reminded of time spent with my father’s parents. When I worked on this prompt a year ago, I wrote this post about exploring the senses, this post about noticing the here and now, and this post about memories of my grandmother.
Here I have some photos from her wedding album and some words that this prompt inspired (click on each thumbnail if you’d like to be swept into the 1940s):
She is a woman of soft linens, long nightgowns, and decorum, her thin body of sharp bones draped with beautiful fabrics and jewelry. She thinks nothing of playing on the floor with her grandchildren… spreading out couch cushions to jump on or cards for Go Fish.
I sit in the front seat of her long Buick, spacious and velvety, as she drives me to Marshalls for what feels to me like a shopping spree from heaven. She knows what looks good and what is proper.
She tends to her garden, walking on the long path or stepping stones, pointing out elephant ears and naming flowers, picking mint for my tongue. I love to follow, marveling at the tree leaves that fold at my touch.
She has a countertop filled with glass jars of licorice, mints, and candies, a drawer of spearmint gum and always a bowl of mixed nuts with nut crackers placed nearby. A hall closet is full of shoes, velvet bags with delicate clasps, and blankets, all smelling like her.
Her nightstand is small, the glass top holding pictures in place forever. Every morning, this is where she paints her features, a magnifying mirror reflecting back her soft skin. She is not dressed until her lipstick is in place.
She reads the newspaper every morning at the white wicker glass-top kitchen table, a porcelain cop of coffee and her gold-sequined cigarette case not far from reach. She passes on a biography by Camella Sedat that I still have. I now have her favorite book, The Little Prince, describing a love and loneliness that she must have known.
I remember there was always a freezer full of food and rice unlike any other, a Sephardic blend of flavors. “People come from miles around” to this kitchen. Vanessa, the cat, slinks nearby… young in her 17 years.
I was treasured there, with my grandparents. I remember the scents of perfumes, soaps, lipstick, and mint. She gave me gifts of bath beads and silky nightgowns. Presents for everyone, even though it was a birthday for one, our names written with elaborate curves.
I imagine her youth and young adulthood. My grandfather’s courtship. Raising four children while her husband worked so hard. Happy times and lots of smiles. By my childhood, they were separate… my grandfather in a cave of radio stories and books of Jewish folklore and Talmud; my grandmother in her cozy bed with the TV news blaring and books all around her.
A memory comes forth unbidden… That last Passover seder with her, near the end of the night when most people had stopped following along and she and I volleyed responsive readings from the Hagaddah. I feel my eyes fill with tears just as they did then, remembering the love she poured into my childhood and how much I will miss her when she’s gone.
How much of my memory is true? Were she here now, I would ask her about her early days living on the farm, what her parents were like and how she met my granddaddy. How did she get through her days ironing and cooking, working in the hosiery shop, writing and being active in the community? What was her driving philosophy? What were her disappointments? I would love to put my sweet daughter on her lap and let her paint her nails as she did mine so long ago, or decorate her in beads and purses and shoes, creating a new generation of memories.
In case you missed last week’s post, “I begin,” here it is.