Yesterday I visited the Out of Fashion exhibition at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art with my son’s family. Each of the four granddaughters found something to exclaim upon, something to learn, something to connect. I’ve never been much of a fashion maven, but at least one of the granddaughters who loves the shape and texture of fabrics draped around bodies may become one. Watching her awe at the holographic image “trying on” clothing and the intricate web of threads stretching across the ceiling and arriving at a loosely formed dress, I thought of my grandmother, my mother, my daughter and the threads they still connect for me.
Like my grandmother, I preserve the connections of family, threading the names and faces and dates I learned from her while breaking beans on the porch.
Grandma Annie would give me a seat on the hard gray bench rescued from the church when real pews replaced the old benches, fill my lap with a pan of beans, instruct me to break them just so, then fill my mind with the names and birthdates of her twelve children, their spouses and their children.
I save this bean-breaking genealogy and offer it to my granddaughters as we ride together to schools, to museums, to birthday parties, to the grocery store. Who’s next in the family? Whose birthday is in January? in February?
Like my mother, I save newspaper clippings. Hers became yellowed with age, and the prize tomato of Uncle Monroe has almost disappeared along the frayed edges of the newsprint. Mine are digital. Here’s a link to Uncle Ray’s obituary so that far and wide, all the relatives are called home to support, to reflect, to mourn, to celebrate a life long-lived.
Like my mother, I save photographs. Hers were small, black and white, with dimpled edges, fuzzy images of her family posed somberly in front of the porch after the occasion of someone’s death. Mine are in color, digitally made, digitally corrected, digitally saved, randomly posed or not. People laugh from the centers of my photographs. Still those fragments of lives, of times, of places save us as we are, as we were. And the threadlike connections from generation to generation, too small to see with the naked eye, remain and endure.
Like my mother, I save cards and letters and books. My mother’s sixty-some year collection of greeting cards and notes received would have filled a small museum and then some. I reconnect with old friends after cleaning out my own collection from time to time. Oh, there’s Carolyn’s Christmas card with the photo of her 17 grandchildren. And she was my student more than 40 years ago. What a life she has had. And there’s my cousin’s note to me asking if she could please be a junior bridesmaid in my wedding. Too bad we eloped and had no need for a junior bridesmaid.
Unlike my mother, I save the mementos of my daughter’s life, a short life, 15 years and 9 months long. But I have learned to repurpose many of those pieces, and I have shared the Babar books, the Nancy Drew books, the Berenstain Bear books, the doll house with its tiny toothbrush and towels, the princess Lego castle, the worry dolls, the t-shirts, the jeans and the Christening dress with others who remember her and some who don’t.
I still save for her and for me:
•the calm contrast of the rhythm of the ocean on a chilly June morning as we were chased by terns, too near their nesting area
•the feel of crusty tangled hair after dancing on the beach, no one watching but us and God
•the giggling as we tried press-on nails and played “beauty night” just the two of us (and now there are three and soon to be five playing this “game”—already Sara has nail polish that changes colors based on your mood for the next “spa night”)
•the Red Fairy Book, along with the yellow, brown, blue, green and pink collections of stories by Andrew Lang, books Elizabeth and I read together as we sat in the shelter of the old Jeep on a windy June morning just at dawn on the beach, books that Anna and Sara and Maria and soon Leah and Patty and I will read as we swing in the hammock or lie on a quilt outdoors.
I share these savored saved moments and resurrect them new and fresh for the five little girls who arrived after Elizabeth’s departure. Thin threads of connection, new weavings.