The Merchant Sisters circa 1903
I’ve been having some crazy days lately. I’ve been in this deep reflection stage, pondering the meaning of my life (here is a great opening for Monty Python fans) and imagining that I have made progress.
Reflection is a unique ability of man. I sometimes think it is somewhat of a lost art. Perhaps I am wrong? I’d like to think so…but with the advent of so many “sit there and be done to” mediums, it seems that solitude is less often experienced these days, and solitude is a necessary prerequisite.
I am sitting in front of a computer screen right now, even though at the moment I am talking to myself. But in seconds I could be anywhere in the electronic world, shopping, checking the weather in Burma, perusing my email, looking for a chat room (although I am not a chatter, I could look for a chat room). It is incredibly easy to do these things.
If I want to stand up and go to where I last left my remote control, supposing I can find it (if not, I will experience some unpredicted exercise) I can flick on the boob tube. There are even more boobs on it these days (of any sort you want to consider), and if soaps aren’t your cuppa there are all of those “reality” shows–most of which don’t seem the least bit real to me, but nonetheless. Of course, if one does not want these, or the news, there are movies–some exceptionally good–and “how-to” programs, a favorite of mine, because I can imagine doing something I don’t, can’t, or won’t.
The radio is fairly innocuous these days. I usually tune into my local public radio that serves up NPR and PRI and the like. They actually do foster some thought on my part, rather like reading a good book–but it didn’t used to be there. No, just a few short generations ago, one had to occupy oneself with engaging directly with another person, by viewing a live presentation, or by reading or writing or involving oneself with one’s hobby.
My grandmothers sewed, read, played cards, wrote letters or poetry, took walks or buggy rides. They took walks, took the train, or went boating with their sweethearts/husbands. They made picnic lunches and made them exquisitely–they packed lemonade, cake and homemade pickles, homemade bread and jam, sliced meats, chicken legs, cloth napkins and a wool blanket or a woven tablecloth to lay out, and all was placed in a willow basket. In the evening they played the piano, sung, and read their favorite ladies’ magazine.
I get nostalgic thinking of this world I only lived in, peripherally, as a child. I of course did not experience the horses–tractors and cars and trucks had arrived by the time I arrived in the world–but I listened to the stories and saw the photographs. And when I grew older and was more interested in listening to my transistor radio off in a corner by myself, these experiences were still part of me. They are to this day, as I remember them.
I’d like to thank my grandparents and other grand-relatives for this gift of the past, and I do wish I could somehow bring it back, at least in a small way. And that, I think, is why I write–and why my mother wrote, and why my grandmother wrote.
It is a gift of reflection, and a gift of bringing back to life things we love.
All the best in your life,
A lovely post. I think it’s very hard for people just to be by themselves, and writing is one way to do that–you’ve got so much company with the voices inside your head.
Good luck with your reflections.
Thanks, Megan. I’m going to try to do a little more listening than I have been. I’ve been thinking about that lately…so I went to bed tonight with just my cats and a book.
The problem was that I just woke up after dreaming that I couldn’t get up…and found I was pinned down with cats asleep on both sides of my knees like little round sandbags. But it was still nice. 🙂
And another thing…
My sister and I had a long discussion as to whether the photo is of our grandmother and great aunt or our grandmother and great-grandmother Julia. We poured over a blown-up scan of the photo and still couldn’t decide. Jennifer thinks the second, shorter woman is Julia (maybe). I thought she was Dorrie at first, then Louise (since Dorrie was the technology minded one who probably used the camera)…then Jen decided she looked as though she could be in her forties. This is complicated by the fact that a water spill blotted out the last digit of the year Grandma wrote on the photo…is it 1903, 1904, 1907, 1909…?
Now we have concluded we have to ask our uncle, whose eyesight isn’t the greatest, although he is as sharp as a tack–not that he knows the details of all of our grandmother’s stashed photographs.
Anyway, the lesson is to ask all your questions while you can…!
Thanks for a moment apart, Laurie.
It IS hard to find those moments of quiet these days–even if you turn off the entertainment devices there is the refrigerator, the dishwasher, the neighbors car alarm.
One of the benefits/hazards of living in hurricane country is that I know what the world sounds like when all of that stuff is turned off. It is an eerie sound but utterly peaceful in some way–the calm after the storm isn’t just an expression.
When I lived in Toronto I was amazed at how QUIET a snow storm is. In the south when we have a storm it’s loud and blustery and frightening, so when the warnings came on television I prepared myself for tumult and was greeted with quiet…
Trying to figure out who is who in old family photographs is so difficult! We’ve got several that we “think” we’ve got right, but there’s no one around to tell us.
“It is a gift of reflection, and a gift of bringing back to life things we love.”
I love this, Laurie! Sometimes I hear people dismiss historical fiction (and futuristic fiction, too!) as escapist and irrelevant. Well, first I’d say what’s wrong with escapism? But I could also say that reaching either backward or forward in time in our writing helps to remind people of the connectedness of the human race. (And doing it in a more fun way than either history or science books.) Living in the moment is good, but aren’t where we came from and where we might go important too?
That’s lovely, Elena, and just right. I do think that connectedness is something we need now, more than ever.
I was just wondering today why history repeats itself, and thought that it seems each generation has to learn everything for themselves. But looking back must help at least a little.
Amanda C–good observation. I grew up in the country, and there were times when there was no traffic and no machines running…and you are quite right about the snowstorms. When it isn’t blowing, the snow just falls…and falls…like feathers falling on feathers.
I’ve been in on a few power outages, too. Good reminders on how used we are to depending on electricity for everything. You are forced then to use your own resources, ready or not!
As to the power outage thing… After the Northridge earthquake (which, as my brother never ceases to remind me, actually had Reseda as its epicenter, not Northridge — BTW, he lived in Reseda!), my brother said he and the other people who lived in his apartment complex all left the building (they were afraid it might collapse or something — and with no power, water, etc, not much fun being in there) and hung out on the roof (okay, they probably weren’t TOO afraid the building would fall!)
Anyway, one guy was staring at the night sky, and he said, “I swear the world’s coming to an end! Look, the stars got brighter!”
Having all the electricity out across the city made the light from the stars much easier to see, and made the stars look bigger… 🙂
As to the past… It does sound much more fulfilling in many ways to spend one’s leisure time with others, reading out loud, sewing, playing cards, walking… But I would not have liked to do my grandmother’s housework!!! No ringers for me, thank you!!! 🙂