Once in a while, when I am in a certain kind of mood, I will drive over to Allisonia, my native ground, and visit the relatives. Most of them lead a quiet existence in a triangular plot on top of a hill on Webb road. When I was a kid, this was a bare, grassy field with a single juniper growing up in the middle of it. If you threw a rock in any direction from the fence, you’d hit a cow, but if you had a good arm, you might hit the house of a Webb; in addition to my grandparents, my grandfather’s brothers, Clarence, Tony, and Kennard, lived within slingshot distance.
This is no longer the case. Most of them are even closer together in that triangle at the curve of the road. The cornfields and cow pastures have grown up into woods, and almost all the houses are owned by people I’ve never heard of. My second cousin and her husband live in my grandparents’ house, and the surrounding farms have been sold to people who dragged in double-wides or modular homes. Time passes. Things change.
Just for today I am irritated by this.
Inside the priceless amber of the human brain, there are a million things – the light of a summer afternoon, the texture of a dress, the dust of a dirt road, the sharp smell of cedar, the dizzy spinning of a rope swing. They exist only there, in that unreliable filing system known as the memory. You really can’t go home again, and not just because it’s different now. It was different then, too. Memory is not a videotape.
Violet has moved into that shadow land, also inhabited by my father and grandparents, where the facts lurk, slippery as eels, in memory that is itself as fluid as the creek, and perhaps as swiftly passing. This is what happens.
A million things. Maybe more. A fragile, and above all, temporary, vessel to hold them.
Last Friday, my Beloved and I took our oldest daughter and her fiancé to Piper’s Gap, where my father-in-law grew up. We showed her the houses, the church, the neighborhoods that made up her grandfather’s life, and that held many of her dad’s memories. She will have some memories of this that are neither her father’s nor her grandfather’s, but they will be hers, carried in the priceless amber of her own brain.
I wonder, does any of this matter? The Violet I remember is not the one my sister remembers, nor yet the one my mother remembers. None of these are the real woman, whoever she was. Maybe I should just go take a nap.
But I have the sense of circling a great mystery – my body sits on my front porch, on a sweltering summer afternoon with thunderclouds piling up, but my mind breathes in December air like knives, riding between my father and grandfather in Pa’s truck, going up through the creeks to visit his sister. It is not a story that I can pass down like the grapevine story, or the dead possum. It is a vignette, where I am eight years old, my father is young and strong, and the air is cold and sweet. It lives in my brain alone, and only for a while. I don’t know why. Laying Violet to rest has made me want to hold on to things that cannot be held onto. I need this thunderstorm to get here already, and wash me back into the present.