“But art is poultice for a burn. It is a privilege to have, somewhere within you, a capacity for making something speak from your own seared experience.”
~ Molly Peacock
In The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany (Begins Her Life’s Work) at 72, poet Molly Peacock savours the vivid intersections of her creative life and that of eighteenth-century British artist Mary Granville Pendarves Delany. Part memoir, part biography, the book reconstructs Delany’s life from hundreds of letters the woman wrote to her sister in the mid-1700s.
Thursday, April 4th, 2013
I have put them, standing upright, in a box adorned with images of tulips, my favourite flower, and I’ve been staring at them for two days now, afraid to open them.
And I know why.
Tuesday, March 26th, 2013
“Those craters, which introduced me to the pain of life, which taught me about the un-solidness of ground, also became a portal to my becoming a writer.”
~ Kyo Maclear
On the eve of my marriage, in August 1998, my father gave me a beautiful lacquer box with a black and white photo inside. It showed my father from behind peering out over a lunar landscape. Written on the back were the words:
This is a very historic photo of a time of horror and happiness. In September 1969 I traveled from Hanoi to the border with the South — the first television correspondent to do so. What I saw no one in the West at first believed, countryside bombed so totally that it looked like the craters of the Moon. When I returned to Hanoi (traveling at night to hide from the bombing), I vowed I’d do a television history of Vietnam some day to “repair” the damage. That same day in Hanoi I received wonderful news that forever altered my life: a telegram from Mummy saying you were on your way!
Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
A lifelong writer, HYACINTHE MILLER is editing drafts of her non-fiction book (Police Officer: Journeys from Recruit to Chief), two novels, and an anthology of erotic short stories. She is president of the Writers’ Community of York Region and a member of Sisters in Crime and Toronto Romance Writers. She maintains a blog, Write in Plain Sight, and is developing another site called The Police Professional.
* * *
I’ve always been enamoured of snapshots, those frozen fleeting seconds of our lives that outlast memory.
The date printed on the pinked margin reads February 1938. Grandmother’s thick wavy hair is pinned back under a fancy hat. The camera registers her dark oval face, her unblinking gaze under a solemn brow, the fox-head stole draped around her shoulders. Her fingers grip a wooden plinth, as if to press it into the floor.
“My mother was a dainty woman,” Mom would whisper, prying the lid from a dusty storage box and easing grandmother’s shoes from a bed of crinkly tissue. Tiny (size 4), low-heeled and shiny black and soft as frosting, with a comforting, worn scent, those boots were a talisman. Wiping her eyes with the corner of her apron, she’d turn away to look at something I couldn’t see. I’d trace the sweep of leather buttons, the cobbler’s stitched signature on the instep. There was no question of me putting them on — at age ten I was almost as tall as my mother, with feet far too big. Eleven months after the portrait was taken, grandmother sat in a dentist’s chair to have a tooth extracted and didn’t awaken from the ether. At age 19 the orphaned guardian of three younger siblings, my stoic, graceful mother would wear the weight of that death all of her life.
The photo of my mother at 22 hangs on the wall of my sewing room, in an antique frame we unearthed in her garage after she died suddenly in 1998. In it she is shy, slender, hopeful — I was that way too, once. She’s affianced of my father, a dreamy lad deployed as a sapper with the British Corps of Engineers in the pestilential trenches of Second World War Egypt. We’re not sure how they met, or when. My brothers and I speculate, injecting romance or intrigue into an invented history. In that unruly garden behind the family walk-up in Montreal, Mom looks more incandescent than sunlight. In fading convent-school cursive, she wrote on the reverse, Greeting to My Beloved, Christmas 1942. He returned two years later, not the man she’d thought she knew, but a wary, tight-lipped husk, besotted by an Englishwoman who’d reclaim him twelve years later, leaving my mother bereft again, this time with three small children of her own. Mom mourned/adored him till she died. I learned the persistence of love.
My daddy, whom I would love even when he no longer knew me, stands at parade rest in a postcard photograph, cap rakishly askew over his right ear, dark khaki uniform sharply pressed, boots spit-shined, cloth service belt wrapped tight around his narrow waist. Birthed in a village somewhere in Cuba and lacking proper documentation, he’d lied about his age to enlist in the army. The sweet-faced poet-photographer-machinist-farmer looks to be on the threshold of tears. He inscribed the photo, From Ronnie to dear Eunice, with his love. Underneath what looks like a hastily sketched bird is a blotch of red, whether wax or a scrap from an album I don’t know. But it resembles a misshapen heart. When I first found the picture among my mother’s things, those words, his love, struck me as odd phrasing, but recalling the lives they’d lived — briefly together and decades apart — I knew that he’d lost whatever self he had, after he sailed on that troop ship and puked his way to war. He’d shaken hands with the Shadow.
In a yellowing cellophane bag tucked on the top shelf of my closet, I’ve kept the pair of impossibly tiny pink booties that were mine. They seem more fitting for a doll than a full-term infant. I was born fourteen days short of my parents’ first anniversary. Babies were smaller in those lean days after the Armistice. I recall stories of how poor they were. How important the family connections. The sweater Mom knitted fits my outstretched hand. Decorated with scalloped edges, eyelet rows, and yellow ducks, the fine wool sweater’s much washed, the stitches barely felted, no longer pristine white but aged to ivory.
Jess and I have been best friends since February 1961, when she blew into Sister John Francis’s class at Denis Morris High School, nudging the trajectory of my future. Drum corps and cheerleading, smoking Export ‘A’s pilfered from her dad, and . . . boys. At age 16, we are so innocent in our matching white jackets. Not for nothing in 1992 are we wearing dark sweaters, reflecting, perhaps, the lessons shaping our lives. In the photo I’ve grown into the same cautious eyes that were my dad’s. Unlike him, though, I’ve saved my self.
The Superman sweater, knit when my son was in grade seven and before heroes fell from favour, later kept my mother comfy too. Graduated to a new outfit, he dropped by for a scheduled break from patrolling the 400 series highways, proud to show Nana his police cruiser. Years later, he would wear his dress uniform to her funeral. Captured forever in this photo, their innocent connection still warms.
And when I thought that my options for bliss had frayed to a thread and that my fate, like that of all the women in my family, was to grow old alone, I met him at IKEA, my Swedish Viking. His first gift was a signet ring with stylized initials reading LH in one direction, HM in the other. Our lives have intertwined, like the letters. What serendipity.
Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
From Rudy Wiebe’s memoir Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest (Knopf Canada, 2006; Vintage Canada, 2007):
“My first memory: water arcing and the length of Liz’s small leg scalded; which is not as dreadful as Abe’s throat, but why are the rafters there? Why would we bathe upstairs in the sleeping loft? Where is Mary? The extremely hot, very heavy kettle would have had to be hoisted up the ladder stairs you needed two hands to clutch and climb — hoisted somehow by Helen who was always sickly, never strong? This should have happened in our lean-to kitchen, as usual, beside the woodstove where Mary would simply swing the kettle around by its handle, off the firebox and tilt it over the washtub.
But in this, the first undeniable memory of my life, nothing is more fixed than that low, open jaw of roof rafters and three of us screaming. Childhood can only remain what you have not forgotten.”
Your Pages . . .
1. Write about your ”first undeniable memory.”
2. Describe an accident or injury that happened to someone else — a sibling, a friend — as you recall it.
3. Write about an early memory that has never quite made sense to you, one with missing pieces or fuzzy edges. (A former student of mine called these “memory shadows.”) Leave the draft for a few days, then come back to it and see if you can layer in more details that render the memory clearer.
Wednesday, February 27th, 2013
Every Wednesday, bloggers around the world post a photo they’ve taken that tells a story without words. I hope you like mine.
If this photo brings to mind a memory or otherwise inspires you to do some writing, please share a comment below.
View more of my photos here.
And drop in on the following writer friends for further Wordlessness
(Elizabeth Yeoman at Wunderkamera will return next week)
and photographer David Williams, who hosts a “blog hop” with links to other WW enthusiasts:
Recent Posts on Writing
Wednesday, February 20th, 2013