Thursday, October 15, 2015

Housing memories

My aunt and cousin stopped by last week to bring me some apples from the family cabin on Whidbey Island. I've posted about this cabin before. But to refresh your memory (and because it's salient to this post) here are a few pictures:

 In my memory, Whidbey (which, oddly, is what we've always called our own part of the large island on which it sits) has always looked like this.  Or I should say It looks like this in the spring. Well, there's a metal roof on the cabin now that wasn't there when I was young, and I'm old enough to remember every extra building being added to the property. But the meadow, the basketball court, the apple trees, this is what they look like when I close my eyes and think of them. And when I step out of my car onto the property, when my children step out of their cars, these look approximately the way they did when my parents were first married. I have a picture of myself as a toddler walking through the meadow. Hmmm.
There, see? It's the same place. Sorry about the poor quality of the picture. I look a bit like a zombie but you aren't meant to be looking at the child anyway, but at the meadow.

So my aunt, cousin and I got to talking about Whidbey and how it looks, how it's changed over the years, and how those changes affect us. It made me think about what a difficult time we have with change, especially when it comes to something so halcyion as Whidbey has been to all of us. My cousin has been taking out all kinds of brush, nettles, and wild blackberry bushes throughout the property, and I admit, that when I first saw how open it was driving in, I felt a little sad. It wasn't the same. That was my primary objection. I simply wanted it the same as it had always been. However, I only wanted it the same in the ways I wanted it the same, if that makes sense. That is, I certainly didn't want to go back to outhouses and washing dishes without running water. I might have felt some kind of longing for a past where the well worked but I didn't want to have to haul water up that hill several times a day, called by a loud cow bell from whatever game I was playing to do so. It wasn't fun, let me tell you. And did I like all those nettles? Really? Not even a little. And those summers when my grandmother and aunts had to get up--even when it was hot--and start the big old cast iron stove to cook, I can't even imagine what that was really like for them. They baked bread, cookies, all kinds of goodies, not to mention, cooked every meal on top of raging fire that must have been difficult to regulate. Looking back, I know we lived through summers like it was a hundred years earlier. And I might have loved it as a child, or even a teen, but I also remember the day, the summer after my senior year in high school, when the lights were turned on, and the first meal cooked on the electric stove (which I think is still there, bless its heart). It was like we'd all invented light ourselves.

No, when I really think about it, I love having had that kind of childhood, but I don't want those inconveniences any more. I do love the memories. I need them. They help define my life. Not only that, they give me parameters, a chronology.

What I've realized is that those memories aren't 'housed' in  Whidbey, the place. They are actually housed within me. I don't walk in the door of that cabin and see that workhorse cast iron stove taking up space anymore, but I can see my memory. I can see it right now. I can hear the crackle of the fire and the spit of water on the top, I can hear the hard clunk of iron as my grandmother opens one of the burners with the iron stick to throw in another piece of wood, or shuffles across the kitchen in her slippers,  saying, "Watch out, hot kettle"  as she pours steaming water into the metal tub so we can wash dishes. All these memories are mine. They are houses within me.

And there is room in my brain for more memories, for newer ones. My cousin has turned our property into something of a park. Once I stopped trying to hold onto the way it had been and simply looked around, I saw it. It's beautiful. No, not simply beautiful, but stop-your-breath-in-your-tracks beautiful. There's a trail down to the bluff, from which we can see all the way across toward the Olympic mountains. The trail goes through the woods, which are overgrown and full of all those things Whidbey has had--brambles, nettles, berries, ferns, downed logs. But suddenly, a person comes out of the woods into this gorgeous park. My cousin has cleared it all, Mowed it all. It's like coming across a treasure that was not expected. My younger daughter imagines getting married there one day right at sunset. I tell you there might be no better spot.

I now have that view housed in my brain right beside the old fire pit that used to be out there carved away inside those brambles. I loved going out to that old fire pit. Our children loved that too. But this new park at the bluff, it's better. It's the same kind of luxury light and running water feel to me in this sacred family place.

And here's the thing: these memories that are housed within me, these must be shared. As much as we've shared the place over the years, so we must share the memories. Story is the way we pass memories on. My parents are gone now, so I don't have all their stories, all their memories. I want to make sure that my children, future grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins all share mine. And I share theirs. I don't want to live in this 'house' alone. I've seen how fragile memory is. We must take ours out and share them as we sit around tables, laughing, as we sing the old songs at campfires, even through shuddering tears sometimes. This was the old way of passing life along. It was the way of telling life, of reminding each other of who we are, what life is. I don't want to forget it.
Do you?


Auralee said...

I have similar but different memories and some of the same knee-jerk reactions about the changes. For instance, I don't remember the cabin without power or the electric stove, but I do still have very vivid memories about lying in bed in the morning trying to decide if I really needed to go to the outhouse that badly, or priming the pump and deciding if I could carry a completely full bucket up the path to the cabin. Its been 15 years and the running water up there still seems like a novelty to me.

I love that I was able to have my wedding there, the perfect place for it, and I'd love for my children to have the same opportunity.

Pamela M. Steiner said...

Such wonderful memories! You helped me to imagine how it used to be, and to appreciate how it must be now...but I tend to dream about a place like what you describe yours used to be...the wood stove...yes, the well/handpump, and even the outhouse...well, maybe NOT the outhouse. I had one of those on the farm where I was born for the first 5 years of my life in PA...cold in winter I can tell you that! Anyway, I am glad you have shared these wonderful memories. They are treasures to be shared with your future generations. LOVE IT!