Collective Memory

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 2:12pm

Yesterday’s forecast of rain has been diminished to overcast with a slight chance of a shower and the radar is clear but I walk out into the yard and hear rain drops. It is the moisture that collected on the leaves of the knotweed and pin oak, fog settling and adhering into water which tumbles from one branch to another.

The damp overnight was so thick it rinsed the south windows, which late yesterday were cloudy with salt mist. Later, after dark, they were streaky, the lights of the harbor distorted by rivulets running down the glass. They are not quite what anyone would deem “clean” and when I stand at a certain angle I can see traces that will become more pronounced at day’s end, but last night they were nearly opaque.

Yesterday had not promised to be so odd a weather day when I did laundry in the morning and hung it on the line under a weak but persistent sun. It is too easy to forget about those clothes that have to be brought in early this time of year and it was later than I had hoped it would be when I remembered them.

The laundry was more than damp when I went out near sundown to collect it, not the damp of day’s end but wetter than it had been when I hung. The day was calm and only then did I notice the sound of the ocean in one of its more deceptive gray beast moods. The surf was not high, the water to the east was not broken by white caps but it was protesting when it found itself stalled by a land mass, its smooth edges torn where it met the also seemingly benign sand of the beach.

That was when I realized it was not only the angle of the lowering sun that made the south facing kitchen windows gray; they were coated with salt rolled up through the hollows from the shore. It was low lying, as it often is down here, only reaching the upper floor windows in the worst storms. Going out after dark was traveling though Brigadoon, layers of salt mist running into ground fog layered across the road.

This, they are now saying, will be the last day I can leave my door open, that the cold is approaching tomorrow. It has been beautiful, perfect for a Sunday beach walk and various edge of darkness wanderings about the neighborhood. The mild has only exacerbated my normal denial of early sunset. Things are changing, there seem to be plans for another new house in our little corner of the world. An old way has been reopened, a foundation I’ve always known to be there a bit more exposed, again. The Poplar Cottage stood upon it, the entrance marked by the stone tower beside the Mansion Road. It had been fancy, once, with a great white gate, thanks, the story goes, for some favor done when the Searles built their fancy place above the beach.

It is a strange thing to walk about the paths that used to go in slightly different places, one to the edge of a pond nearly overgrown. I’ve a fragment of a memory from when I was very small, walking about with my mother and coming onto a foundation in the ground I was so certain was to the north but it may well have been this one.

The mornings have returned and for that I am grateful, but these afternoons end too quickly. A cousin in Seattle wrote yesterday — and, again, I found myself wondering how anyone lives to the north —

“The days will get darker and shorter for another 40 days before they start to get lighter again. 80 days before they’re as long as today!”

She, another cousin in Indiana, and I had spent part of Veterans Days sending images back and forth, our fathers and their oldest brother, four of them in the armed services when The Providence Journal was running what appeared to be a weekly “four star family” feature. When World War II ended they were five, joined by the sibling yet in high school when the article was written. One of us has it neatly saved, not stashed in one of a few boxes of Things To Be Sorted This Winter.

Increasingly, I wonder what are the moments of collective memory that will be carried forth from the time in which we live. An aunt recalled being in the room where I now sit and my father, home on leave from the Navy base in Groton, standing up to turn the volume knob on the radio that then sat against the south wall. They all heard an announcement of a bomb being dropped on Japan, news that carried a certainty the war would soon end.

The uncle that aunt married a few weeks later flew 43 missions in a B-17 stationed in England. He was a natural mechanic and a trained engineer when his plane was badly damaged over France he climbed down into the bomb bay and held together the wires that enabled them to get the wounded plane back over the English Channel. He came home and wanted, his daughter once told me, nothing more than to live in a house where the plumbing and electricity were already in place.

One year at Christmas, I visited him in California. Asked what he wanted from the store, he replied “The LA Times” and we, his children and niece, all looked at him in surprise. He, our beloved father and uncle, but rather more conservative than we, chided us with “It’s a good newspaper!” It was only after a pause he added with his almost secret smile, “Well, except for the editorial page.”

My dad died when I was 18; Cash was the uncle I most came to know as an adult. He died on Patriots Day almost 15 years ago this coming spring and I miss him still..