The past is never where you think you left it. Katherine Ann Porter
That dessert. Just like a spring released mechanism, my body sat up in bed to absorb the pitchness of the hour. I claimed the culprit: disruptive late night calories taken in on a whim.
Paying penance, I considered that my Yazoo City Grandfather took nary a bite after 4:00 p.m. He slept like a baby. He speaks to me with frequency these days. At long last, I’m a regular target especially when outdoors with senses open.
Back when I was a proud multitasker and he was still on earth, his observations about living showed up to me as lack. As if I reduced my hustle, I might miss out. But he knew. He probably wondered if I had any chance of developing the kind of intelligence that came to him in his late forties – the sort of smarts that come after a loss here and there.
I go to bed around 9ish and waking to burn the midnight oil can be productive. On this particular night, the sugar shake-up was a gift because a significant task awaited – the review of the last box of fragmented life that my father left behind.
When his things were moved to our house, a friend recommended that I install his ephemera into small boxes and post inside a closet as a reminder of portioned assignments that could be reviewed and dealt with over time.
In this the age of buying in excess and then – whiplash, tidying up, our culture seems to swing between hoarding and trashing. We never seem to consider the self awareness that may come by a considerate investigation of what we find on our hands.
My father’s trail of fragments was an aftermath of the unintentional – bank statements, mementos from childhood, glasses frames, works of personal art, old magazines etc. But then, as I shifted through the last of it – tada: a can of undeveloped film by my hobbyist Tupelo grandfather – an excellent example of hopefulness and dread.
I leaped on it like it contained the family jewels. Surely I possessed a looking glass of time saving therapy. A new page would be turned and a family roadblock exposed. Awaken I would proceed with the enlightenment that others might dismiss.
What I found was a collection of commercial building snapshots and a portrait of my father decked in a quaint boyhood outfit, sitting with his dog Tuffy along side an unidentified boy on an unidentified dock. The oddity of building sites and a day on the water brought more mind expanding questions about who he was and who I was as a result.
While watching American Masters on PBS, I was drawn to the biography of Garry Winogrand introduced as an American street photographer who documented life and social issues from 1933 – 1967. He commented that he photographed only to see what a subject would look like being photographed. At some point he stopped developing his film, leaving thousands of compositions for others to interpret as a curation of another place in time. They are riveting in their bald faced access.
With that, I realized that all who create are framing something of split-second value to them, but also possible tutelage to others. So the question is: Does the future need these items? I say that answers to present questions can be redeemed by descendants with the clues from the past… if only we make the time.
Latent but brand new vision is the richest kind of behavior-changing wisdom. Just like the promise heavy wedding vows that the happy couple cannot begin to fathom. Leave it to the oldies in the pew; their witness stands for what is yet to be known.
In my little town of Columbia, Tennessee, a young curator has had the imagination to design an original exhibit, Crafted by Conscience – Material & Belief in Polk’s America, which will be on display in the James K. Polk Museum until the fall of 2019. With ephemera, textiles, and furniture, visitors are invited to explore the fullness of a past that struggled to make sense and make change. A tour throughout brings hindsight of helpful clues for a better world, so clearly available in the details of the struggle.
The work of museums around the world and in the boxes of your closet can be one of imagination and studied inspiration.
My Yazoo Grandfather welcomed wisdom and grew his vision from life transitions. He kept examples of his growing awareness documented in the form of personal ephemera. In the tip-top drawer of the back bedroom highboy, he sometimes reached to showcase treasures: the first magazine he ever bought, a buck eye from his childhood yard…. yet nothing of the businesses he had built.
What does our stuff say about our families: their preoccupations, their victories, their desires, their failures? What does it say about where we as a result might be gifted or even stalled?
My mother was remodeling her kitchen when she died. She was amid endless handmade projects designed for her grandchildren and for personal exploration. I like the hopeful energy of her exit.
And she left evidence. Insight materializes from the layers of life she left behind.
Angel Food Lemonade Cake
I remembered this cake the minute I saw the tattered recipe card. It was wedged into one of the boxes of ephemera. Definitely the sort of dish that caused craving when I still lived with my parents. My mother made it many times for family celebrations when strawberries were in season.
The dessert reminds me of how important family was to her and how she loved to present a gift of the unusual. I connected her love of strawberries back to a family farm in Kentucky that she would visit as a child.
My life is now flooded with memory, the gift that keeps giving. Here is one lucky remnant.
10 inch angel food cake
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
1 small can of lemonade concentrate
3 boxes of strawberries
Soften ice cream and then add the can of lemonade concentrate to it.
Stir until blended.
Slice angel food cake into 3 layers.
Spread ice cream and lemonade mixture between layers. Ice with remainder of mixture.
Take out of freezer about 10 minutes ahead of serving.
Spoon the strawberries over slice and serve.