"[M]emories are by their very nature fragmented, isolated, and arbitrary as glimpses one has at night through lighted windows." (Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson)
After I rounded the corner on Surry Drive, I came to a stop next to a field of foot high grass. I used to dread cutting the grass in that field. It felt like it took all day, back and forth and back and forth with the push mower, sweat pouring off me. Now it looks smaller by far, unkempt too.
"Where did we live?"
"Right there, Mom."
I have my Mom in the car with me, her car really, as she doesn't drive any longer and this car is easier for her to get in and out of with her arthritis. Her face is a bit puzzled, I think, and I wonder what she is remembering. Maybe she's like me. I could sit here in the car and conjure up at least two dozen memories of this house and its environs within five minutes or so. But I wonder what she remembers.
"That's where the Nodars lived, on the corner, that house."
"Norma lived there? That house is too small."
"Yeah, that's it alright. Next door were the Helmanns, and then the Highfills, and then the Jewish family --- what were there names? --- then Bobby's house, and the Hahns.' I'm pointing them out with my finger, somewhat amazed that I can remember.
I move on. I know it looks suspicious, a strange car sitting here scrutinizing houses. For a moment I imagine seeing a Dad out in the yard of my old house, walking up and telling him I used to live here, hoping he'd ask me in. I mean I haven't seen my old bedroom in, well, maybe 30 years or so. But no, I suppose that won't happen, or if it did, it'd be a bit wierd.
What am I looking for? I'm not sure. But I think I want to recollect who I am and where I came from. I draw some reassurance from that, that I had a home and maybe that I'll have one beyond this earth, that though we all grow older and move away the old places are still there and the memories we have still inhabit them.
I drive on. No one out. I try to see what would have been in my childhood: a purple Sears Spyder bike with high handlebars and a banana seat; a backyard game of capture the flag played over three or four backyards, walking to the corner store scheming up some superhero adventure, laying in sleeping bags on the sideyard of a house wondering if I could make it outside all night. It's an odd feeling. Those memories are near enough to touch, almost, and yet 35-40 years away. In fact, were I to stop the car I could stand in the very spot where certain things occurred --- like where the neighborhood bully Brad Bullah inexplicably helped me fix my bike, and act of kindness when no one else was around --- and yet the memory occupies (or occupied) that space in a different time.
I think this odd feeling we have in the presence of places that evoke memories is God-given. It's speculative, of course, but I suspect that when we attain glory we will somehow see the passage of time in a different light. And while we will not be God, the one who is timeless (and outside time), we will be eternal, and that must bring a different perspective to these memories. I can't believe we simply forget everything, because in forgetting we lose who we are.
"Let's go by Momma's house. I haven't been over there in a long time."
"OK." She's talking about her mother's house, my grandmother, who lived in the same house as long as I knew her.
I drive on, repeating street names, like Pender, Gracewood, Conrwallis, Pembroke, and so on, faintly comforted by the sound of the spoken names, the fact that they have endured. And in my mother's face I see the light of recognition, as through a glass dimly. One day it will all be clear. One day we'll all get home.