Saturday, May 14, 2005

Everything Old is New Again


I've been helping my mother pack up the farm little by little for a few hours on Thursdays. We make small dents but mostly we go through specific areas or my own things still there. The other day I packed up all of my piano music. I haven't used any of it in about 20 years since when I was still in college (I am a great sight reader and don't play well by ear or memory). Much of it belonged to my father and I have such great memories of sitting at the baby grand in my grandparents' Ohio home, playing duets with him. At our home now we have recently been given a baby grand by some friends who are closing up their mother's house. It will be tuned tomorrow and I am anxious to play more regularly again and to have my children learn to play.

Thirty-one years ago this June we moved from Akron to the farm in New Hampshire. The North American van took off with most of our things, neatly packed and downsized, while our green Plymouth station wagon was filled to the rafters with plants, turtles, hamsters, chameleons, three kids, and a twelve-year old Irish Setter on valium. We survived the passage across the New York Thruway, a trip we usually made at night while we slept and my father drove, but I don't know how my mother did it with the menagerie she had on board. That journey was a threshold for me, from an easy-going childhood to the many reality checks of adolescence as a child of divorce. The farm was a place I had loved in summers, when my home, school, friends and family in Ohio were still there to return to. For many years, the farm and its town and school became something from which I could not wait to flee.

Because we were moving into my grandparents' furnished farm house, with the intention of buying or building our own house one day, most of our stuff was shoved over the barn or in the attic when it arrived, wherever there was room. Many boxes, especially kitchenware, were never opened. Only recently has my mother begun opening them up. Each one is a time capsule from the 1960s and early 70s, with some Victorian heirlooms thrown in: assorted glassware like Apollo mission glasses, a red retro barbecue tray, family silver and other wedding presents that haven't seen the light of day in decades and many hardly were used even then. Wrapped within the fragile yellowing newsprint with Nixon and Haldeman headlines, and the Xenia, Ohio tornado of April 1974, are precious memories.

Mom gave me a box marked "Cathy's Sand Casting--Car". I opened this well-taped 8x11 inch box and inside was the ugliest looking plaster sand relief with my name painted in black on a yellow background (an homage to the Smiley face colors so prevalent in the early 1970s?). When (incised on the back is March 1974) and where did I make this monstrosity, I wondered? I usually remember something that has been tucked away, even if I don't know where it was put, as well as the details behind it. This one eludes me and for the first time I find myself with amnesia of childhood. If I wasn't eleven at the time it was made, I probably would have blamed this artwork on LSD. I was never crafty and art classes to me were painful. Clearly this work of art--perhaps a mother's day gift for my Mom--reflects that.

What was particularly poignant about it was that my mother had taken the time to carefully wrap and preserve it, even assigning its transport to the car, where only special things--like live pets, plants and children--were designated. Her Victorian glassware, family silver and other odds and ends went into great big moving boxes but the small fragile gift of a child was given a place of honor in a car already overstuffed with more important items.

That is always as it should be. Thanks, Mom, for caring for something so simple and so ugly, but made from the childhood heart of your daughter.

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