I planned to write a blog post today (well, yesterday, actually, but time got away from me) about groups of Emilie Loring books to recommend for different times in a person’s life. Then I read “The Method Behind the Madness” by fellow blogger “Pancho.” She writes so cleverly–and correctly–about starting and managing one’s family archives!
I thought to myself, “A kindred spirit! She really understands the difficulty of this business!” When I thought about it awhile longer, I realized that my tasks are really three-fold:
(1) archiving photos, documents, memorabilia, heirlooms, and memories;
(2) creating shareable books, presentations, family trees, artworks, etc., so all of this doesn’t die with me; and
(3) doing the thought work that solves mysteries, makes links and discoveries, and provides the thread of meaning and intelligibility to transform a heap of information from a hodgepodge to a history.
I started out doing these things for my own family’s history, then doubled up and began doing the same for Emilie Loring’s life and family. Aye me!
It’s a funny breed that devotes so much time to the past when there is so much to do in the present. I got up early this morning to pack a cooler of sandwiches, drinks, and snacks for my daughter’s fiancé who stayed with us overnight on his way to join her in Oregon. As the sun came up, I made cinnamon French toast and fried ham for breakfast. Then I did the dishes and Skyped a short while with my mother in Wisconsin.
I have all of the regular things to do with the rest of my day. I’ll probably take a walk in the greenbelt, since we have a sunny, blue-sky day today–and I have laundry to wash, dry, and put away. My husband and I joined a wine-tasting course with some friends, so I need to choose a recipe to take to this Friday’s session on the “Noble Whites” and let our hostess know what we’re bringing. I could fill my time with activities for the present day!
Instead, I am taking this time to write a blog post, and after lunch, I will attend a presentation at the local library about using the National Archives for genealogical research. If there’s time before dinner, I’ll review yesterday’s notes for a new section in Happy Landings about phases of Emilie Loring’s writing, the source of my original post topic for today.
(Evening update: No walk, no laundry, no recipe selection, but I did have a great discussion of DNA genealogy at the library. Ah well. There’s another chance tomorrow!)
Why do we do it, we people who live otherwise normal lives but devote so much of it to the past? Why do I choose to do this not only for my family’s past but also for Emilie’s? My insight today is that history is memory, and memories are, for me, both knowledge and emotion.
Here’s an example: My coffee mug is a pleasure for me to use. It’s blue and white, my favorite colors; the grooves running around it seem energetic and vaguely nautical; and it has Maine blueberries hand-painted at the rim.
How do I know that they are Maine blueberries? Because I bought this mug at Rackliffe Pottery in Blue Hill, Maine, a fourth-generation, family business. (Add it to your bucket list!) The clay was dug from the ground very near my summer cottage, and those happy ridges were made by rolling the clay into a long rope, coiling it up on top of a base, adding more “rope” for a handle, and finally, smoothing the mug to its final shape.
The Rackliffes’ grandfather makes the mugs, and this is the method of pottery that he’s best able to do in his mid-nineties. I’m in Colorado now, but when I drank my cup of coffee this morning, I thought of Maine, blueberries, and the thoughtfulness of a family that actively includes everyone, at every age.
Facts aren’t just facts. Things aren’t just things. They hold memories etched into them with experience, knowledge, and emotion. And our memories, personally and collectively, give meaning to our lives and touch responsive chords of emotion when they are recalled. With a bit of insight, they can even show us what matters most to us in our lives.
I love being in-the-moment as experiences unfold. I love turning my thoughts to the past and knowing enough about it to see its moments and feel its emotions. I’m glad my imagination is rich enough to picture a time in the future when someone may read what I’ve written and be transported.
Emilie Loring did this for me. She took me to the Maine coast and country estates. She let me experience her memories through her prose, so that they became as real to me as my coffee mug and the old man I’ve never seen, who made it.
Do you have a mug or a tea cup that holds memories for you? Send me a note about it, and a photo, if you have one, and I’ll share them here next weekend. Thanksgiving is around the corner, and we could all use a deep breath and a long, leisurely cup of tea before the holiday season begins. Let’s share stories and enjoy.