26 April 2009
I thought of my father as Eva and I walked along the wooded path beside the lake.
He’s dead nine years now, but he and his stories, his life story, are still with me.
He seemed to intend that I, and my younger sister Diane, should carry his memories with us. We have. This was how his mother raised him, to remember her memories, and her fantasies. She died before Dad and Mom married, in a state mental hospital.
So here I am remembering Dad’s memories, or at least my version of them.
There are many, so many that I can no longer distinguish among what were his memories or my version of what he said, or my own memories and imaginings. These memories could possibly be interesting to others if they were told well as a story, but this is not where my thoughts took me as Eva and I walked, slowly, in the quiet, sunny morning under the trees along the lake.
Here is what I thought: Dad’s memories will die with my death and my sister’s death. He will then, and his mother will then, be truly dead.
Such melancholy-seeming thoughts were probably elicited by the death, a few days ago, of the last remaining relative we knew in the older generation: Mom’s sister, our Aunt Bee. She was 96.
Gone are Mom and Dad, Dad’s aunt Genevieve and her son, our cousin Nestor, and his wife Timmie. Gone are Aunts Bee and Angie and Uncle Harry. Diane and I are the oldest now, and not too old: 67 and 72. We remember things, especially about Dad and his life, that no one else can remember.
I thought earlier this morning of how I, following my father’s pattern, tried to inculcate family memories in my five children and the older of my grandchildren, to no apparent avail. I do not have what Dad had—an almost violent need to relive the past and make sense of it. My need is not as strong; and, my children were not trapped in the household as Diane and I were trapped in Brooklyn for five years just after the end of World War Two, away from all other family members in California. My children could safely escape from me when they needed to.
How we got to Brooklyn and why we stayed there for five years before returning, happily, to San Francisco is another story that will die with Diane and me.
That’s the point of this ramble. All these memories we try to preserve through storytelling, documents, photographs and sometimes moving images are not really interesting or useful to those who follow us except, perhaps, as fantasies or academic exercises.
“This is it!” as Alan Watts insists, as do others of a philosophical bent. There is no past, there is no future. There is only now. We learn primarily through our own experiences, if at all. We are condemned to re-live history. And, family memories attenuate over succeeding generations.
I allowed these meandering thoughts about the diminishing value of memories to rustle through my gray matter for a bit, then I got back to the business at hand—to enjoy each moment of my walk with Eva, along the lakeside path under the trees, on this beautiful sunny morning at latitude 59 degrees North, in Stockholm, Sweden.