Tim Cooper of Oakdale, Minn., responds to the recent post Whistling Past the Graveyard. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
T. S. Eliot once wrote, “Great works of art always mean more than they are capable of expressing.” Whenever I return to Pud Goodlett’s journals in The Last Resort and reread his thoughts as a young man, I am reminded of Eliot’s quote, of how even something as apparently straightforward and unencumbered as a camp logbook can resonate with unexpected intent and purpose. I am particularly cognizant of Goodlett’s love of place and family, and how scholarly success never weakened his ties to Kentucky.
When I read Sallie Showalter’s recent blog—which mirrors this attachment to family and place—I realized there must be a mystical connection between people and location that sometimes transcends all else.
As I was growing up, my family moved a dozen times to a dozen different states while my parents pursued graduate degrees and visiting professorships. I learned early not to form an attachment to a place. I am also the only child of an only child, and I can count my remaining relatives on one hand. I am watching my mother die from Parkinson’s disease. So I use the term “mystical” deliberately when thinking of those who experience this ineffable pull of family and place. As a young man, I was unaware of its power. As I contemplate the latter phases of my life, as I extricate myself from the shackles of my career, I yearn for those ties to a constant place and to people who knew me way back when.
That, in a roundabout way, brings me to Pud’s wife, Mary Marrs, and my brief encounters with her when I was young. I recall her as a woman of unassailable beauty and grace. She, too, served her country during WWII by leaving her small-town home in central Kentucky and going to work for the Navy in Hawaii. (A tough gig, that.) Like many of the more fortunate members of her generation, she returned to her roots when the conflict concluded.
I must have been 15 years old, a friend of her older daughter, when I met her. She always treated me with the utmost kindness. One story will suffice: I’m not sure where her two daughters were, but she and I found ourselves in her kitchen, drinking coffee early one morning. We must have talked for an hour, and while I don’t remember the thread of our conversation, I do recall that she took me—a 15-year-old boy and all that that entails—seriously. I also recall her discussing her deceased husband and telling me how I would have liked him.
It was only years later, after the death of my own father at an absurdly young age, that I recognized in the eyes of my mother the look on Mrs. Goodlett’s face during that talk: a look of bereavement, confusion, controlled anger, and a sadness that cannot be articulated.
And just as Mary Marrs had returned to Lawrenceburg from her home in Maryland after Dr. Goodlett’s passing, so my own mother left Kentucky and returned to her family in Minnesota after my father’s death. The pull of place, of family, of familiarity surmounted the grip of artificial roots. And while we could argue whether these two women made the right decision, who can argue with the gravitational pull that lured them home?
Camus wrote: “There are places where the mind dies so that a truth which is its very denial can be born.” The human condition is absurd: we plan, we strive, we rely on rational, systematic thought to live. And yet, our mortality tells us that our existence is provisional and transitory; it is irrational. We carve out careers, and they crumble into insignificance when we visit the gravesites of our relatives; we remember our deceased loved ones in their vibrant youth, and yet we somehow live longer than they; we live in exciting locales among interesting friends, and yet our profound meaning comes from our place of origin.
It is, indeed, when we delve into and accept the irrational—the “dying of the mind”—that we find our true selves, our “truth.” And for those, like me, who do not have roots, who do not have a family or place which circles the wagons and protects us, this irrational absurdity compels us to act, to rebel, to define ourselves by our actions, by our choices.
Pud Goodlett, writing home about what he witnessed at the Nuremburg war crimes trials, wonders if his brother Vincent, an attorney who had served his country in England, would have found the events interesting. And his widow, talking about her deceased husband to a teen-age boy as though this untamed youth were the most important person she had ever met, perhaps unwittingly reveals the most profound truth she knows: family and place are what bind us to this earth, and to each other.
Tim Cooper of Oakdale, Minn., responds to the blog Imagining Community. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
I have been thinking about Anthony Bourdain.
I have been thinking particularly about his now somewhat countercultural paraphrase of a nineteenth-century French writer: “A gentleman never undermines the dignity and self-respect of another.”
In all corners of the world, close and distant, forces concertedly whittle away at individuals’ dignity and self-respect. We separate children from parents because “they” are not us. We demonize the “other” because it makes us feel superior. And, perhaps most perniciously, we condone the environmental degradation of areas where others live while jealously guarding our own domains.
I read with interest Sallie Showalter’s recent blog Imagining Community. Her piece is a call for all of us to read, and to read widely. She asserts that by reading we can vicariously experience lives different from our own and thereby gain a transcendent understanding of the world. I was particularly pleased to see her reference to the late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s collection, The Other. In a review of this work in The Guardian, Jason Burke writes:
“Every person we 'meet along the road and across the world' is 'in a way twofold', he (Kapuściński) says. First, there is 'a person like the rest of us', who has 'his joys and sorrows, does not like to be hungry or ... cold, feels pain as suffering and good fortune as satisfying and fulfilling'. But there is the second person, 'who overlaps with the first'. He is 'a bearer of racial features and ... a culture, beliefs and conviction'. These two entities co-exist and incessantly interact. Anyone who has travelled through our supposedly 'flattened' world in recent years can confirm this. Few can deny the emotional pull of the tribe, the nation, the linguistic community, or the difference of peoples, races, languages, cuisines, traditions and histories. This has proved the great flaw in the doctrines of liberal interventionism and neoconservatism. Much of development theory clings to an economic vision of growth, underplaying the emotional. But the two beings outlined here are frequently in conflict and the second often wins.”
And so the novelist’s imagination is a prompt for understanding. Robert Coles, in his cogent work The Call of Stories, writes that the poetry and prose of William Carlos Williams “urges intense, searching self-scrutiny.” The stories and drama of Anton Chekhov prompt us to “a close look not only at ourselves, but at others, at the terrible contrasts of this world.”
Travel, too, is the anodyne of smugness and intolerance, where riding public transportation is the norm and engaging in conversation with a cab driver, a restaurant server, or a fellow traveler can be a profound educational experience. Anthony Bourdain brilliantly evoked this ethic throughout his work. Whether acknowledging his host’s gracious hospitality by eating food that was clearly outside his comfort zone or conversing with manual laborers, restaurant dishwashers, or subsistence farmers, Bourdain showed us how to travel, how to interact respectfully with those who are not like we are, and how to be ever aware of those who suffer.
Surely embracing his vision will only make us wiser.
Last spring I silently marked the 50th anniversary of my father’s death, on April 1, 1967. It seemed fitting that shortly after that anniversary David Hoefer and I committed to publishing The Last Resort by the end of that summer.
This spring the entire nation has marked the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
As an eight-year-old in the spring of 1968, my world seemed to be wracked by death. My father the year before. His mother two months later. Then two towering icons whose deaths recalled the raw wound left behind after the murder of John F. Kennedy five years before.
Of course, the whole nation had other reasons to grieve that year, as more and more servicemen had their lives cut short in Vietnam. Drug overdoses made the news. Death and despair seemed to have a determined grip on our nation.
In many ways I realize it’s unfair to conflate my personal losses and the nation’s loss of these public figures. But from the limited perspective of a child, the incessant drumbeat seemed overwhelming. I couldn’t understand why all of these important people were being taken from us—from me—one right after the other. One in April 1967. One in April 1968. One in June 1967. One in June 1968. Even at that young age I had a sense of the symmetry—or perhaps the regularity—of these deaths. I had no reason to think the next year, or the next, would be any different.
These men were all linked, at least in my young mind. All were in the prime of their lives—from 39 to 46 years old—having steadily built their influence. All had families with young children. All died unexpectedly, the family members and admirers having no preparation for the sudden emptiness, the sudden annihilation of a shared future. All represented huge promise—for a nation in turmoil in the case of the assassinated public figures, or for a tiny sphere of students and colleagues in an emerging field of science, in the case of my father.
In retrospect, it doesn’t seem so outlandish that a young child who had been immersed in grief would take these continuing deaths personally. This was the world as I knew it. Sadness. Loneliness. Endless inexplicable tragedies.
I knew the commemorations surrounding the anniversaries of the 1968 deaths of two of our most inspiring public figures would affect me. I expected it would be best if I buried my head and blithely went about my business this spring without recognizing them. But the condition of our nation and our politics at this moment made it impossible for me to keep my head bowed. I feel it is my responsibility to raise my head up, to stay vigilant, to maintain a clear-eyed gaze.
I’m certain it’s good for our nation as a whole to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. I would hope that by remembering the unfulfilled promise of their lives and the hopefulness of their messages we would be inspired to alter how we think, how we act, and how we treat each other, even on the smallest scale.
But I’m afraid I may be one of the few who is paying attention.
It has been a spring riddled with grief. Two cousins, a close colleague, my husband’s uncle, a good friend’s mother, a neighbor I didn’t know well but who died so unexpectedly it sent us all reeling.
That made getting out in the woods one day last week before the weekend deluge even more healing and restorative than usual. Hiking in Kentucky’s beautiful hardwood forests has always been high on my list of outdoor pleasures. I have to believe that some of my affinity for that activity was handed down to me from my dad—whether through genetics, through family picnics and camping trips, or through the endless hours of slides relating to his research he sometimes subjected us to. In the 1960s, most families viewed slides of birthday parties or other family gatherings. We sat quietly as he shared images of rock formations and treefall sites. In those days, children rarely had the chance to choose the family’s entertainment.
Recent research has provided some evidence of a real connection between spending time in natural environments and reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. The Green Road Project at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., is currently attempting to measure these changes mathematically using biological markers such as levels of cortisol in the blood rather than the self-reported mood surveys commonly used in other research. Researchers involved in the project are particularly interested in understanding if time spent in a natural environment will promote healing among veterans suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. A more far-reaching goal of projects such as these is to offer community decision-makers objective evidence for championing local green spaces that improve health and well-being.
In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) produced a comprehensive report titled “Urban green spaces and health.” The report particularly focuses on how easily-accessible green spaces provide a respite from stress, a venue for physical activity, and an environment shielded from a city’s air and noise pollutants. The report concludes in part that “The evidence shows that urban green space has health benefits, particularly for economically deprived communities, children, pregnant women and senior citizens. It is therefore essential that all populations have adequate access to green space, with particular priority placed on provision for disadvantaged communities. While details of urban green space design and management have to be sensitive to local geographical and cultural conditions, the need for green space and its value for health and well‐being is universal.”
My personal anecdotal evidence fully corroborates any conclusions correlating time spent in the woods and better emotional and physical health. Walking along a woodland trail, removed from the stressors and pressures of daily life, immediately calms you. The serene environment soothes you. The beauty awes you. Sometimes the experience even reminds you of our interconnectedness with nature and how we rely fully on the natural areas of this world for each and every breath.
Which is why the disclaimer on the WHO report was more than mildly disturbing. I could just imagine the machinations behind the scenes before this report was published.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
I would like to think that our country’s questionably named Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still cares about protecting our natural environments. But we have all come to understand that that is a naïve assessment of the agency’s role.
So it’s up to us to protect these precious areas. I hope you will consider the small things you can do to help preserve the natural woodlands that support human life. And when you need relief from the vagaries of a sometimes cruel existence, I hope you, too, will wander a nearby woods and reclaim a sense of peace.
One of the regular visitors to The Last Resort was John Allen Moore, Pud’s first cousin whose family had moved to Atlanta during the Depression when his dad was offered a new job with the railroad. Although John Allen was three years younger than Pud, the two were close. In 1933, when the boys were 11 and 8, Pud traveled with John Allen and his parents to the World’s Fair in Chicago to celebrate a Century of Progress. While there they stayed with another cousin, Will Maurer, who was a chiropractor in the city.
It’s clear from Pud’s journal that he was always pleased to have John Allen’s company at the camp. On May 31, 1942, soon after John Allen arrived in Kentucky for a summer visit, Pud describes the two of them having a “sleepless and reminiscent spell, not going to sleep until 2:00 [a.m.].” About a week later, there’s another entry: “John Allen and I went swimming in the Camp Hole and had a swell time riding the current, which must have been running about eight miles an hour.” At Christmas time, John Allen was back in Kentucky with his family. On Dec. 24, 1942, Pud writes: “Scoured the countryside with John Allen in search of a Christmas tree. Saw only two rabbits, but lots of birds.”
When I chatted with John Allen about this book project, he would frequently recall the terrifying lightning strike that hit the cabin in June 1942. Pud described the scene: “A bolt of lightning ripped through the partly opened door between John Allen and me and crashed like a giant cracker. John Allen tried to wrap his legs and arms around his head…”
Both men survived service in the infantry during World War II and both married a few years after they returned. Pud was John Allen’s best man in 1951. Their friendship endured until my father’s life was cut short.
John Allen once described meeting the train that carried my father’s remains when it arrived in Kentucky in April 1967. He had not shaken the shock of my father’s untimely death. When he described the scene to me in 2015, I felt fairly certain that he still hadn’t fully recovered.
On April 25, 2018, John Allen passed away after a long and eventful life. I am so grateful for all the stories he shared. I have to imagine that throughout his life he was the kind and gentle man I came to know. His ability to recall names and dates and details of our family history going back generations, even into his 90s, never ceased to amaze me.
To John Allen’s wife, Jane Chappell, to his sister, Jane McKinney, and his brother, Joe, to his children and his grandchildren, I offer my sincere condolences. I want to honor him as my father would have honored him. In my imagination, the two are now hip deep in a flowing river, fishing rods in their hands. Bobby Cole, Joe Goodlette, and George McWilliams are probably nearby. Rest in peace all.
It’s still magical.
That’s what we discovered when several of us “second generation” sanctuary-seekers visited the site of my dad’s old camp on Salt River last weekend. It was a spectacularly beautiful early spring day: temperatures in the mid-40s with deep blue skies and a light breeze. The torrential rains of the previous week had finally ceased and the ground was surprisingly solid as we hiked down a gravel road past pretty little ponds on either side, down the long hill to the immense corn bottom along the river itself. (Finally, I know exactly what Pud meant by “Cap’s Corn Bottom.”) Remnants of last season’s corn crop littered the flat land that extended as far as the eye could see to the east and west and down to the tree line adjacent to the river. We turned east along the southern edge of the field and headed toward the woods that brought an abrupt end to the corn rows.
Once in the woods, I knew I was home. Everything felt familiar. I had only been there once before, but I immediately recalled the path up the hill to the right, the gurgling stream to the left. We crossed the small stream—somewhat carefully this time with the water running a bit more swiftly—and marched directly to the old chimney, still untouched by time. The cabin, of course, is gone, but I expect that chimney will last well into the next millennium. We all marveled at how two teenage boys constructed such a solid edifice 80 years ago.
This was a special trip. Bobby Cole’s two children, Bob and Julie, and their spouses were there. They had been regular visitors to the site until their family sold the property in 1981. Two who had visited the camp with my dad as youngsters also joined us: Bob McWilliams (author of "Puzzle Pieces"), son of George McWilliams, my dad’s good friend and my mother’s first cousin, and Sandy Goodlett, oldest son of my uncle Billy, Pud’s brother. They pointed out favorite fishing holes, recognized giant sycamore trees along the river, shared stories about the slow deterioration of the cabin and the shelter it continued to provide even in its compromised state well into the 1960s.
We wandered a few yards west of the camp to the waterfall our fathers had used as access to the river for their many fishing expeditions, the steep bluff in front of camp preventing an easier entry. The waterfall was more beautiful than I remembered it, and we tarried there quite some time taking in the scene, recalling the winter photo of my dad sliding down the frozen water on his rear, noting the animal bones littered on a nearby shelf, marveling at the remnants of an old dry stone fence.
Yes, it was magical. It’s clear why the boys escaped to their woodland refuge whenever their other obligations permitted.
None of us wanted to leave. I wished we had thought to ask permission to camp there that night to extend the dream. The current property owners were once again gracious, gladly allowing us to immerse ourselves in this piece of our family history.
Time changes everything. But for a couple of hours in early March, we could imagine our dads walking among us, excitedly pointing out the burgeoning buds on the trees, bragging about their fishing exploits, making plans to improve the camp that summer. We shared sacred memories rarely spoken aloud and honored our dads’ love for that hallowed ground. It was indeed magical.
This past week we lost one of our cousins who I suspect visited The Last Resort with his uncle Pud and his cousin Sandy when they were toddlers and possibly later, when Pud came back to Kentucky to see family. In his correspondence, Pud referred to Sandy as “Sweetpea” and to Davy as “Sluggo” or “Slug.” David Fallis was the oldest son of Pud’s sister, Virginia, and all of us will miss his gentleness and his sense of humor. Rest in peace, Dave.
I come from a very small family. After my father died in 1967, it was my mother, my older sister, and me. My mother died in 1991. My sister lives hundreds of miles away.
I quickly realized that I didn’t much like the feeling of being “untethered” from the mooring of a family. My husband has a wonderful, rather large family, but I wanted ties to folks who knew something about the people who had populated my early years, folks who could help me remember my parents and others of their generation and who could perhaps help me understand a little more about myself.
So over the last three decades I have made concerted efforts to reach out to my many cousins, to invite them to my home, and to get to know them better. They are all older than I am, so I felt a bit like the annoying kid sister trying to wheedle my way into their orbits. Much to my relief, they have been largely tolerant of my whims, and I am immensely grateful for their ongoing support.
My cousins are all fascinating people. Every last one of them. They intrigue me. They surprise me. There’s so much more I want to know about each of them.
One of the unexpected benefits of publishing The Last Resort has been the opportunities it has created for me to connect with my extended family. While preparing the manuscript, I relied on them for information and family history. I had no choice but to call and ask them questions. In the process, I hoped to drum up their interest in the project so they would look forward to reading the book.
What I didn’t predict was how the published book would open up conversations about family. I have heard stories that no one had thought to share before. I have discovered how many of my cousins had spent time at my dad’s camp on Salt River. I have spent hours traveling by car with two of my more intrepid cousins. Although the trips were long, the conversations we had were worth every moment of sedentary discomfort.
Last weekend, the three of us visited two cousins in the Atlanta area: John Allen Moore, one of the original band of boys who joined Pud and Bobby Cole at The Last Resort in the early 1940s, and his younger brother, Joe Moore. We had seen them both two years ago as I was beginning work on this project, looking to them for information. This time I thoroughly enjoyed learning what footnote or story or photo in the book had piqued their interest. I eagerly anticipate continuing the conversations about family and mid-century life in Lawrenceburg and World War II.
When you start a project like this, you think you can see where it will take you. You imagine holding the finished product in your hands. What you can’t fully anticipate are the unexpected personal connections and the emotions of the journey. Their breadth and depth have astonished me. And I might have missed it all if I hadn’t had the courage to reveal a family story and a family who would embrace it.
Bob McWilliams of Frankfort, Ky., offered the following as a comment to Joe Ford’s Unexpected Artifacts post. It generated such interest that I wanted to make it more widely available to Clearing the Fog readers.
Pud Goodlett was a friend, fellow Boy Scout and classmate of my father, George McWilliams. As Sallie has mentioned, my dad camped with Pud and others at The Last Resort.
Pud became part of my family when he married Mary Marrs, who was my Dad’s first cousin on his mother’s side. Mary Marrs and my dad were only children and they were the closest thing they had to a brother or sister. They may have even lived in the same house at one point in time.
Growing up I heard stories about Pud and Dad camping and fishing at Salt River. Of course the fact that Pud and Bobby Cole built their own cabin by the river was for me about the neatest thing ever.
In about 1964, my dad took my friends Bob Crossfield and Bill Stewart and me to The Last Resort for a camping trip. We were twelve years old. As was common, my dad let us explore and then left us for the night to fend for ourselves. The Last Resort was still standing then, though the roof had caved in as had most of the floor. The fireplace, chimney, walls, windows, kitchen, and front porch were intact.
I made several return camping and fishing trips to The Last Resort over the next couple of years, camping under the stars and the trees. It was truly wonderful.
On one of the visits I was sitting on the front porch when I noticed something partially concealed under the leaves and twigs on the ground. I picked it up and it was a piece of Masonite, painted chocolate brown. There was a ghost image of lettering on the board. I cleaned it up and could see that it said Last Resort. I knew then that there had been letters attached to it. I sifted through the leaves and found several pieces of straight wood, each cut from a sapling. Each one was approximately one-quarter inch in width and had been split in half lengthwise and varnished. The end of each piece was beveled. Some were longer than others and we took all the pieces and laid them on the porch floor on top of the Masonite board. To my shock, we were able to place every letter in its proper place, clearly spelling out Last Resort. We celebrated when the last piece of the puzzle was laid down. Alas, I left the sign there on the porch, not being able to project just how special this piece of family lore would have been to Mary Marrs, Ginny, and Sallie.
I have tried to recreate the “twig lettering” in pen and ink to no avail. It seems I cannot recall how the curved letters were formed. I thought it would be a nice addition to Sallie’s book but I simply could not replicate it in decent fashion.
When Pud passed away and Mary Marrs and the girls moved back to Kentucky, Mary Marrs gave me Pud’s L. L. Bean Maine Hunting Shoes, his backpack, snakebite kit, and snakebite boots. The latter had leather so thick and tough that a rattlesnake’s fangs could not penetrate the leather. It seems that I was the only one in the family who loved the outdoors to any degree and had feet small enough to wear the boots. Size 7 I think. Truth be known, I probably wore them for a long time after I had outgrown them. They were special gifts. She didn’t give me his machete, which was probably a good thing.
After reading the blog post “Collecting Memories,” Joe Ford of Louisville, Ky., shared these memories of his father. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
I’ve been thinking about family “artifacts,” especially those that surprise rather than merely remind. My father was of the same generation as Pud Goodlett: he, too, interrupted his studies to go to war, returned to eventually get a Ph.D. (his in philosophy), taught college and engaged his students (in and out of the classroom), raised a family (eight of us), and like Pud had an impressive breadth of interests.
He lived a long life, but even so there are these artifacts that surprise. I knew some of them existed, but never learned the story that would lessen the mystery of how they fit in with the fabric of his life. They are photos, physical items, even stories. I encountered them, new and old, known and unknown, after his recent death.
A photograph of my father with Thomas Merton, John Howard Griffin, and Jacques Maritain. A pilot’s license. A hunting shotgun we kids would surreptitiously pull out of the attic and admire. A trumpet in a case lined in red velvet. A small box containing the relics of three saints. Every “Calvin and Hobbes” book ever published. And an oft-repeated story from his good friend Jim Henry describing the first time he met my father: he came down the steps of a Navy ship and there sat Jack Ford at the bottom, reading Aristotle.
Yes, yes, I knew he rubbed shoulders with those Catholic thinkers, had a sense he flew before I came along, had a vague notion he hunted (there was that gun in the attic, after all). But a trumpet for a man who was seemingly tone deaf? No idea. The relics—with authentication records, no less? Total mystery.
But what are the stories behind the artifacts? Why did they all come, those men, that day, to Merton's hermitage? How did someone of such modest means learn to fly and why did he give it up (other than those students in our basement throwing up after a flight)? Who taught that city boy to hunt? What did those relics hold for a rigorous, philosophical mind? And how does it all weave together for a man who lost his father at an early age and had a difficult childhood, yet found deep satisfaction in his life and family and students? We look to artifacts to bring meaning, to fill out memories, to explain. Some do. But some only give a sense of the richness and inherent mystery of a life.
In The Last Resort, Sallie Goodlett Showalter took a rare opportunity to explore and understand at least a part of her father’s life. She could have pointed to the fly rod in the garage and remarked that he had a fishing spot with some buddies on Salt River. End of story. Just some stuff, some artifacts. Instead, she and David Hoefer have brought his journal to life, a journal that touches and reflects many lives, and I am sure the research and conversation and countless artifacts have enriched her far beyond what she expected.
For all of us, in all of us, there is still mystery. Go, surprise.
As I have worked on two large-scale writing projects over the past year, I have been awash in memories: memories of my parents, one gone a quarter-century, one gone a half-century; memories of the small Kentucky community where I grew up; memories of my early childhood surrounded by my father’s professional colleagues; and flickering memories of momentary interactions with long-lost relatives that I’ve tried to tease out of the recesses of my mind. These are the tricky ones, the ones that may shed some light on unexamined family relationships that altered the reality I knew.
My current project requires solving a fascinating puzzle: Why did my maternal grandfather, whom no one in my immediate family ever knew, make the choices he did? What motivated him? While I have been able to uncover a lot of his story through dogged research, what clues exist in the family stories that I do know or that I can remember?
Memory, unfortunately, is always unreliable and usually fickle. We have all been startled to learn that someone else’s memory of an event we recall so vividly does not at all match our recollection. Whose memory is right? How can we both be so certain about our differing stories? Has our memory been altered by hearing someone else’s retelling or by seeing a photo or video? Or did we dream it? How many family arguments and estrangements have been propelled by our illusions?
In 2016, Seamus Carey, president of Transylvania University, spoke eloquently about the fickleness of memory:
“The problem is memory itself. It is difficult to remember well. No matter how hard we try, memory flickers; no matter how earnestly we struggle, memory plays tricks with our thoughts; no matter how firm our promise to hold on, memory is the morning mist, so bright and stellar at its birth, so quickly burned away by the sun of another day.”
As each day passes, our minds are filled with ephemera collected from a multitude of sources. We spend our waking hours, and part of our slumber, sorting through this mass of information. By necessity, some gets moved to a shadowy corner. Some gets pinned to the forefront of our awareness. Some gets temporarily locked inside a box, only to reappear unexpectedly after an unsolicited and sometimes inconvenient provocation.
We cannot tame them, these unruly memories. We cannot hold them, even if we want to. Our unconsciousness regularly seizes control of our consciousness and sweeps them away. Sometimes this is good. Sometimes it’s for our own good, although we may not recognize it at the time. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes we do everything we can to cling to the few memories we have.
But that doesn’t mean that I can’t still honor what I can’t remember. Or those whom I don’t remember. I will rely on others’ stories, on other photos. I will construct a memory that nourishes me and inspires me to build memories with those who are here with me now, chasing this wild dream we call life.
In memory of Buddy, whom I can only remember with love.