Sunday, December 27, 2009

On Memory

masks
(The view from my daughter's rented condo)

For years, my mother has been telling us about a movie that had a great impact on her in high school. Her older sister saw it first; and when she got home, she crawled into bed with my mother and spilled the entire story, bringing it to vivid life in the darkness. Somehow it encapsulated all the fears, the fragile dreams, and the dazzling romance they must have felt coming of age in a time of war.

The older sister was gorgeous and confident; my mother was shy and unaware of her own emerging beauty. She didn't care that her sister had spoiled the ending. Mom scraped together the money for a bus ticket to Boston to see the movie the very next day.

With the advent of DVDs, my mother has often asked if anyone could find Waterloo Bridge. Every now and then I check the SAVED section of my queue on Netflix to see if it's available, but the release date always remains tantalizingly unknown. Just out of reach. Sort of like the past itself.

Then, this month for my mother's birthday, my incredibly thoughtful daughter tracked down the video. The first week Mom watched it twice a day.

However, privately she confessed disappointment. She still loved the story and Vivien Leigh; Robert Taylor was as handsome as he ever was; but the movie didn't have the same resonance it had when she'd first seen it at sixteen.

"I just don't feel things the way I used to," she said, looking stunned by the discovery.

But that didn't keep her from slipping into her room, pulling down the shades and lying on her bed to watch it one more time. And it didn't keep her from repeating the story about her sister every time she emerged from her private theatre.

Of course, I eventually realized it wasn't the movie she loved so much. It was the memory of a sister's attention; it was their shared youthful longings captured in tangible celluloid.

And I also realized how important it is to make an effort to listen with respect and interest to my mother's repetitive stories. Not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it's also the smart thing to do.

When I do, I occasionally see the forest gleaming through the trees. And sometimes I even see my own life a little more clearly. Just today I was wondering if I feel things as vividly as I used to.

The answer, of course, is no.

And yes.

And even more vividly than ever.

Just as it is for my mother.

22 comments:

marja-leena said...

As always, you write such wonderful stories with a message from the heart, Patry! Thank you! Hope you are feeling well and enjoying this holiday season with your family with all your passion! May the New Year bring forth more good things your way! So wonderful to hear from you...

The Life of Mel said...

What a wonderful sentiment to come back to after the holiday weekend.

I'm taking my mother home after her cochlear implant surgery today. We're both a little nervous.

I always got along with my father moreso than my mother, but my father died several years ago, and my mother and I have cobbled together more of our relationship over the years.

You making the note about listening to your own mother's repetitive stories makes me realize that I need to be more compassionate and accept with an open heart the parent I've been given, and appreciate her.

So glad you've posted again!
Mel

robin andrea said...

I like finding the stories inside the stories. Sometimes when I feel myself growing tired of the retellings, I try to imagine what it will be like when my mom isn't here anymore to repeat it one more time. The last time I visited my mom, I put her favorite movies in the instant watch queue for her on Netflix. They're there, waiting for her to take a memory journey.

I hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday, Patry. Warmest season's greetings and happy new year wishes.

Lorna said...

How interesting to hear that story, built as it is around Waterloo Bridge, a movie that was a sentimental favourite among my aunts who knew Waterloo Bridge as a movie, the way we know The Titanic as a movie about so much more than a boat.

I'm a storyteller, and often embarrass myself by opening my mouth just as we pass a trigger of one of my stories. I can put up with the shame knowing that I've put another brick in the story wall.

rr said...

I'm a lurker who's been thinking about you a lot over the past days and was delighted to see this, and delighted to read it, beautiful as it is.

This word verification thing, is it usually an actual word? or a random string. Anyway, the word I am about, obediently, to type, is "bless".

:-)

Patry Francis said...

marja-leena: Thank YOU for being here after my long absence, and thanks for all your good wishes. A happy and blessed New Year to you in Vancouver.

Mel: Good luck to you and to your mom. Yes, relationships with parents are fraught--even in the best and most loving of circumstances. Acceptance and appreciation are two of the most beautiful words I know.

Robin: That's the wonderful thing about blogging for me. It unearths those hidden stories, the ones that really matter. I often have the same thought: how precious the sound of that voice is, and how I will eventually long to hear the old stories. As you can see, I'm already repeating them! Love to you, Roger, and your mom.

Lorna: Oh, those triggers! We were never allowed to say the word "nun" around my father, lest it bring on one of his all too familiar stories about Catholic school. Now I catch my kids exchanging the same glances when I launch into one of my old favorites...

rr: I always love to meet a lurker. Thanks for being here and for sharing your unusual word verification. I send that word back to you!

rdl said...

I know what you mean! :D
great post!!

Patry Francis said...

R: Strange, isn't it?

i beati said...

I thought so much on this subject over the holidays - how our memories are still poignant but faded and not as full of verve.I loved the way you expressed that here..sandy

Mary said...

This is a perfect example of great writing.

You say: Just today I was wondering if I feel things as vividly as I used to.

I've read every blog post you've written, so I'm thinking OF COURSE YOU DO.

White space and then: The answer, of course, is no.

And just enough white space again for me to sigh and think, oh Patry, not of course, not even no.

And then the "and yes" and you've taken me through layers of emotions in a single post (yet again). And then you bring it back to the beginning.

Simply perfect.

Happy New Year!

Tinker said...

Being over ten years apart, my husband and I have had differing seminal books and movies, that we've tried to share with one another...'You've never seen/read that - you have to!' - only to find when we view it again, they aren't nearly as thrilling as we remembered...yet I vividly remember the feelings and exhiliration they evoked initially. Maybe bekause (sorry - keyboard not working) we're not the same person we were when we saw it all those years before?
So good to hear from you again, Patry. Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy New Year~xo

Anonymous said...

Dearest Patry, Just lately I've been more concerned about your silence. I'm so pleased to see you here again! I find I miss your thoughtful excursions into life as you are living it and lessons as you are learning them. I thank God for your sweet resiliance and ability to touch my heart. You are a blessing to more souls than you realize. May God richly bless you and your loved ones this New Year, and may you know how well you are loved for your beautiful self.
Love, Ancient Reader

leslee said...

Wonderful! I imagine that humans have always repeated stories, especially those that bring back those vivid feelings - or attempt to.

Happy New Year, Patry!

Beth said...

Patry, this is timely for me, as I've been wondering about a lessening of intensity of feeling and memory -- but realize, like you, that it's true about certain things but not others. What you say about your mother is so true and so precious. Happy New Year to you! I hope it's a very good year and send a big virtual hug.

Patry Francis said...

sandy: Among other things, holidays are a time to unearth memories, and think about how they've changed. Happy New Year to you!

Mary: Thanks so much. This means a lot--especially coming from you. Wishing you a huge happy New Year to you in California!

Tinker: Interesting things happen between spouses when it comes to movies, etc. I love sharing articles and songs with Ted, but once he's read a book, I usually feel as if he's done it for both of us, and I almost never "reread" it. Often, it's the same with movies. Happy New Year!

Leslee: I suppose that's one reason we blog, and why I always come back to this space--because we believe stories change the world in some small way.

Beth: 2010 hugs back to you! So happy to see you here. In many ways, a question from your blog drew me back here. Thank you for that!

Kay McKenzie Cooke. said...

Oh how true! I also have a mother story to tell ... or two or three.. Mine has just gone after staying a few days with us over Xmas. She is now at my brothers, doing her rounds of the family before setting off back home in a town where none of us live. I relished the memories that seemed to pour from her in small comments, or asides. I scurried off a couple of times to scribble them down so as not to forget. It was the recapturing for her of days gone by and times that will never be repeated. A treasure. I felt a little panic about the need to record what she is remembering in case I miss something. I look at the empty room where she was sleeping and sigh. I miss her.

Patry Francis said...

Kay: Whether they live with us, or just pass through for a few days and leave behind an empty bed, the stories they chose to hang on to, sifted through decades of memory, are worth scribbling down. Some day they will be OUR stories to make of them what we will.

Helyn Trickey said...

I stumble on your blog by accident, but I stayed just the same and read. I bookmarked your site. I checked back on occasion and always found a sweet soul with a gift for writing thoughtful posts. This entry hit me square in the ticker. Thanks for pointing out the two-way street that compassion builds in our hearts.

Allie said...

This is so beautiful! I've had a similar experience revisiting movies I loved as a kid. Rarely do they live up to what I remembered them to be, but usually, there's still a comfortable joy to be had in watching them.

twoblueday said...

A more prosaic memory story.

We were in a store last week, and right at the check-out they had Beeman's gum. My Honey remembered liking it a lot as a kid, so we bought a pack. When she chewed a stick of it, it didn't live up to her memories.

I think we do inflate certain pleasant memories as time goes on, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Dory Adams said...

It's wonderful to see you posting here again -- and very exciting to hear that another novel is nearly done!

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