Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Of Memory, Toasts and Hometown Girls

Three of my sister's friends who had grown up with Martha in our hometown of Carmi, Illinois made the trip to North Carolina this past weekend to help her celebrate her special day when she would be "hooded," receiving her PhD in French Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I am quite sure I had not seen any of these women at least since 1976, when I graduated from high school. Back then, since I was ahead of Martha by eight years in school, these girls had just finished fourth grade.

I was a little envious of Martha that she had maintained contact with these women over the years. Due to circumstances in my life, I have never attended a high school reunion and have only recently began to reestablish contact through Facebook with some of my high school friends. It turned out to be an amazing amount of fun to sit down last Friday evening with them, as well as with Martha's husband Koen and his parents, Greetje and Theo, who were visiting from the Netherlands.

Mark took this picture. Starting with me (blue shirt) and proceeding clockwise: Martha, Pam, Koen, Karen, Stephanie, Koen's daughter, Isa, and Greetje and Theo.

Greetje and Theo

Given that there were five people from Carmi sitting around that table, the conversation inevitably turned toward - you guessed it - Carmi. We talked about where they had lived in town, people we had known, teachers, and other subjects. As I listened and participated in the conversation, I realized that images were starting to flood my mind. Neighborhoods. Buildings. Schools. Teachers. 

The red balloon indicates where Carmi is.

As I have written about here, I have struggled with memory of my childhood and youth for years. When I first began investigating the abuse that had happened to me as a child, I had to rely on memories of my older siblings and former sister-in-law to piece together what had happened. There was so much I couldn't remember. And even when they told me things that had happened to me, I usually had no independent memory of the incident. It was as if large chunks of my childhood and adolescence were frozen, and I couldn't access them.

I think that my memory has also suffered because I simply have not been around the places and people I lived in and with. This became apparent - which I wrote about here - when two of my college fraternity brothers came to Mark's and my commitment ceremony in August 2012. They easily remembered and talked about events in college of which I had no recollection, and I think that the reason for this was that they had maintained contact over the years and lived in proximity both the University of Illinois, where we went to school, and to each other and other fraternity brothers.

Me and Pam

This is one of the reasons why last Friday evening was special to me - images of long ago started to cascade from seemingly locked memory banks. And I knew I was seeing these images through the window of my *own* memory, rather than someone else's.

Why do I care about this? What possible relevance could people and places from 40-50 years ago have to my life today? Because of my life experience. Because of fragmentation. Because I feel that I have left bits of myself in numerous places along the road of life, and I welcome the opportunity to feel more whole, more integrated.

The Hometown Girls: Karen, Stephanie and Pam

Plus, it was a just a whole lot of fun. There was a lot of laughter around that patio table that afternoon. Talking about junior high teachers and high school teachers. Remembering incidents, such as the time that a whole bunch of kids were sledding down an embankment and out over frozen backed up water from a flooded Little Wabash River, doing jumps off what we thought was a log - only to discover that it was the body of a dead man frozen in the ice. (Okay, that was pretty weird.)

Before long, it was time to go pick up my daughter, Rachel, at the train station in Durham. She had taken the train down from Philadelphia, where she has been working as a nanny since last September. Amtrak is certainly not Japan Rail; the train was going on two hours late. But she and I had been in contact via text, and we knew when she was due to (finally) arrive. It was so good to see her again! By the time we got back to Martha and Koen's house, it was time to eat dinner and continue the party celebrating Martha's hooding.

That part of the evening was, again, so, so much fun.

Rachel, Me and Mark

Rachel, me, Greetje and Mark

Koen's beautiful daughter, Isa

Pam and Stephanie

At some point, as we were gathered around the kitchen table, a toast was proposed to Martha on her very commendable achievement. Someone joked that everyone needed to remember to clink everyone else's glasses; otherwise, it would result in seven years of bad luck. That's when Pam pointed out that the clinker and the clinkee must also make eye contact; otherwise, this would result in seven years of bad sex. Lots of laughter at that one, and we all made a point of making and holding eye contact. This was carried to extreme lengths once the shots of limoncello started, as evidenced by the picture below.

Koen and Martha steal a kiss

It was a magical evening.

1 comment:

  1. I was honored to be a part of such a special weekend. ~Karen