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Monday, April 14, 2008

Going Home Again-Family, Memories, and Time

Last week a friend expressed to me the need for "a place to call home", and I thought about that Sunday morning as I stood on the deck of the ferry Rhododedron, crossing from Tacoma to Vashon Island. The smell of the marine air, the cry of the gulls, caressed my senses like a mother's touch as the distant land drew closer, into focus, and the magnetism of the place I call home exerted it's pull. I was beginning a day of profound reflection on family, memories, and time.

I had come to the Island for the release of a new book, by the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association, called "The Past Remembered". The project, a collection of stories of pioneer and long-time island families, had begun in the '80's but was never finished, until now, and I had been a contributing writer, chronicling the story of five generation of my family there, since the 1800s. A photo of my grandparents was chosen as the cover design. A celebration of it's release was planned for two o'clock at the museum, once a Lutheran church, just west of the one main intersection in "town".

My husband and I had come over early to meet friends for brunch at "The Hardware Store", a lovely restaurant that, when I was a child, really WAS the hardware, store. I sat there eating and chatting in this pretty space, but off to the side were the ghosts of my grandfather, in his bib overalls, talking at the counter with his old friend who owned the place. I could still smell that wonderful smell of hardware stores, a mixture of wood, rope, well oiled tools, sacks of feed and fertilizer, onion sets, flower bulbs, bird seed, and rugged men in flannel shirts, jeans and work boots. I pictured the shelves, bins, and cases, with things like electrical outlets, mouse traps, hunting and fishing gear. I could still see myself as a child, standing at the rack of seed packages. Dad had given us each our very own row in the garden, where we could plant anything we wanted. Of course I chose flowers, but the decision was so difficult, and important.

Then it was time to take my husband back to the ferry because he could only stay for awhile. On the way south we stopped at Center, another crossroads, where an historic building marked as "The Fuller Store" held a cluster of small businesses, a bakery, a wine shop, and a barber. Tourists would find it charming, but as I stepped inside again the spirits of the past greeted and surrounded me. This was my grandparents' house. I wandered through the rooms. The barber shop had been the master bedroom, the place where my mother as a newlywed had returned home to give birth to her first child, just as her mother had given birth to her brothers and sisters there, with the same country doctor attending. In that space the drama of lives had played out: a married couple's joyful love, the arrival of babies, the comfort of warm quilts on winter nights during the Great Depression, births, and also the inevitable passing of loved ones.

In the space that had been the kitchen I could still imagine the wood burning cook stove, the radio on a shelf, my grandmother in her apron. Where the bakery now is I pictured the sofa, the parakeet in his cage, the portraits of ancestors. In the area near the entrance there was a blank wall where the roll-top desk belonged, and where the claw-footed oak table once stood, nothing. Everything looked different, and yet beneath the surface the essence of the place remained the same.

At two o'clock the gathering at the museum commenced, a room full of mostly older people, some I knew and some whose features held flickers of familiarity, family traits of those I'd grown up with. Some I felt, knew me, recognizing that look of my own clan, but being unsure, after all these years, we just exchanged glances and didn't speak. I sat next to the son of my parents' best friends, rejoicing in the gift of seeing those dear people again in his face, but trying to grasp the fact that he was now the age of his father as I remembered him.

After the event ended I called a friend I hadn't seen in years and met her for coffee. How wonderful and strange to sit across from a woman with whom I struggled through puberty, remembering our high school days, talking about our children, noting our recently acquired wrinkles.

One more stop on the way to the ferry and Tacoma...the home of my aunt. She's in her eighties, somehow becoming more petite with every year, and I found her watching the news in a favorite chair, under a blanket. She had ordered "The Past Remembered" books for each of her children, and I was delivering them. I watched her face as we talked, and saw there subtle glimpses of the whole family, her parents, even her brothers, and her only sister, my mother, now gone.

It was a good day, I thought, sitting in my car at the ferry dock. The rain had arrived as promised, but that too was comfortingly familiar. It was a good day, but one I will always remember for it's meaning and the question it posed: what is time? Is it really a chronological line, or as some have suggested, are the past, present and future actually all around us always, slipping in and out of our consciousness? Whatever truths exist for some of us, here is one of mine. "A place to call home" can seem elusive, in a world of change, unless you know where to look: inside your heart.

1 comment:

susan said...

Sounds like I should take a trip over to the island with you someday just so you could point all this stuff out!