I was reading about a book called My Favorite Things by Maira Kalman. Others of note have done the same. The whimsy of the project compelled me to stop and think. It is just not things. It is smells, and views. It is a feeling too rare that it is never forgotten. It is a moment in time captured and stored and taken out and caressed with the tendrils of the mind again and again.
It is our humanness hanging out not for all the world to see surely, but nonetheless it is an expression of that which is unique to our bipedal form. Of course I cannot say that chimps and other sentient beings don’t do the same, but somehow I suspect they don’t. It is our human trait, yet one we don’t share because, how really can you express such exquisiteness? We may have a thing to touch and stroke but what wells up within cannot be explained in any way that is ever satisfactory.
But, being a writer, I shall try, if only to encourage you to spend some time doing the same.
A late morning laying on a couch in my dorm room at MSU, the window open, a breeze softly playing across my face as I laid there, hearing the soft whinny of a horse corralled below at the MSU vet clinic pasture. As my consciousness slipped back and forth in that delicious reverie of near sleep, I felt a joy beyond compare. I was here, in this place, perfectly warm yet not too warm, hungry but not too hungry, sleepy but not too, young but not too, a mystery called life before me. I remember that perfection every time I lay down with a breeze across my face, and return to a time of it being all before me yet.
An evening, with a coal-black sky and stars blazing across my vision, I lay in my childhood back yard. It was summer. It was cool, but not uncomfortably so. I stared upward until my field of vision closed off the trees and telephone lines to all but the stars, and still I stared. Suddenly, without warning, that was ALL there was, just the stars and me, and the feeling of the entire planet Earth behind me. Suddenly, with no thought, but only by instinct, I reached with each hand and grabbed a fistful of grass and hung on as I felt myself on the edge of this planet hurling through space. There was no fear, but only awe. I think of it often when I gaze skyward at night and will back that feeling of transcendence.
A heavy satin wedding dress, for me. I was only about three. It fit me perfectly with lace shoulders that crossed to attach in the back. It was an exact replica, hand-made of the one my father’s first cousin wore when she married in 1953. I, you see, was the flower girl. I carried that dress from my childhood home to every subsequent one for many years, though somehow, I decided it should be left behind somewhere. I used to stare at it. I don’t remember wearing it. I am told my uncle, the father of the bride had to come take me down the aisle because I was afraid, yet I waved at recognized faces as I he carried me. It is hard to believe that we don’t remember things as small children, for our brains have not yet formed the connections for long-term memory. The dress holds the memories in the stories that were told of the time when I was too young to remember.
A book, I recall so well, but it too is lost, returned to dust in some landfill long since gone too. It described the possible ways that our moon was created. I especially remember the one, the idea that like a pimple it grew out of the side of the earth and stretched farther until there was a band of gooey looking lava-like material holding the two together. It finally grew so thin, it snapped and the moon was separated from earth. I puzzled over that book as my mind learned to wonder at all the inexplicable things that I might learn about some day. My mind stretched to imagine what might be imaginable and how that very thought made my head fuzzy. How do you imagine what is not imaginable? The book was a child’s book. Where did it come from? Who would write such a picture book for a child? And yet, it was bought for me, and I turned its brightly colored pages more times that I can remember. And I imagined. Such visions were so much more real than Alice and talking rabbits.
Has there ever been a woman born who did not hold to some piece of clothing in the hopes that one day she could get back into it again? Mine was a pair of lounging pajamas, Chinese inspired with a short square neckline, and those wonderful frog-closures and a light satin creme-colored. I have no clue why I bought it, since it was always too small, but I often fingered it’s fine tailoring and hoped. Perhaps that is what it serves–the tangible item upon which we rest our hopes of being better, wiser, more in charge of our lives, happier, stronger, with more patience. Is that what it represents?
A set of soft leather books, classics all. Tales of Sherlock Holmes, and some Emerson and others. Some in tooled leather, others in brushed suede covers, all the paper, fine and silky, with gilded edges. They belonged originally to my grandmother’s aunt, left to her at her death. My grandmother gave them to me, because even at my young age of barely a teen, I was noted as “the one who read”. I have read them, most of them, but that is not why they matter. It is their fine construction that calls to me. This is what people do. They sit in fine chairs in fine drawing rooms, with glasses of port and they read from such fine books. They read and they think, and ponder great ideas. At least that is what they have always represented to me. Thinking is always the better part as Mary knew, and Jesus remarked.
Walking the meadow, listening to cows in the distance, as the dogs raced back and forth, casting for a scent to follow, I wonder. Who walked these hills before me? My husband’s father surely, and my husband as he moved the dogs down to the fence lines where pheasants liked to lay. But who else? What wagon laden with hopes and dreams traversed this land heading for a home further west? What native hunted deer or moved with a family to pitch tents near the creek? Who slept under this sky? Who died on this land, or was born during the night? What stories can these trees tell? Whether taken as a vast landscape before me from atop the hill, or exquisitely arrayed at ground level as ants march in determination to their appointed duties, it is the same. Who touched this before I? Whose moccasin or boot disturbed this grain of sand in distant time? The wondering that such thoughts bring.
There are many such stories of such memories. Together they weave a life, a life no better, no worse than most I suspect. Well, perhaps better than most, but certainly not worse. I guess you have to be a certain age to have much of a list. If I sit a while, I will think of others, but mostly it is the here and now experienced in its exquisite multiplicity that ignites each recalled moment in time, and I remember, and flesh out this mortal life.
A word of advice. Start early.