FROZEN IN TIME
21 July 2008
I don't know if everybody does this, or if I just watch too many movies, but doing the 65x365 project has brought back to me a lot of moments which are frozen in time in my memory. We all have events that we remember, stories that we tell to our children when they are growing up, and I have those, but I'm talking about one specific snapshot moment that somehow imbeds itself into my mind in just that way--as a snapshot. Here are some examples.
It's the front door of the corner grocery. It is Sunday morning and we are driving home from church. On the door is a black wreath and we know that Angelina, the woman who owned the store with her husband Angelo (#1 in my 65x365 list, by the way), had died. I have no more than that one picture, and along with it comes the mental sound of an ominous musical chord.
It is another Sunday morning when I am in grammar school and we are lined up outside of church. We line up by who plans to go to communion and who does not. I am in the communion line when I realize with a start that I had a glass of water before coming to church and in those days you couldn't have anything, including water, if you were going to receive communion. But I'm too embarrassed and make the choice to suffer the loss of my soul rather than admit to Sister that I am in the wrong line.
I am about 10 years old and standing in the pantry of our flat with my mother. My godmother has been hospitalized and I ask my mother how she is. She tells me "You're old enough to know this so I'm going to tell you: she has cancer and she's going to die." I don't remember anything before or after that, but I remember that moment very clearly.
It is sometime during my high school years. I am in Citrus Heights with my mother, visiting my aunt (Peach's mother). Aunt Marge is standing at the ironing board and she tells my mother she has had a miscarriage. I have the same feeling I have at seeing the wreath on the grocery store door. I've never known someone who had a miscarriage before.
It is sometime during my high school. My father is going through a nervous breakdown (I realized later, though not at the time). He is sitting in the living room with all the lights off. We don't dare go near him, but as I glance into the room, all I can see is the red glow of the tip of his cigarette.
I am riding on the #41 Union bus, coming home from somewhere. I am riding in the back of the bus. We are just about a block away from Leavenworth Street, where I will get off the bus and suddenly I am filled with the sense of my Grandma Scott's perfume. She has been dead for several months and I don't know how I knew it was her perfume, but I just had the sense that she was there for a moment.
It is 1958 and I am standing in the supply closet at school, trying not to cry. I have just eavesdropped on a telephone conversation and learned that Sister Anne is being transferred to Phoenix. She finds me and starts to tell me she's leaving. "I know," I say. We don't say anything, but hold hands for a moment, then she leaves.
It is June 12, 1960 and we have just gone through the graduation ceremony inside the big St. Mary's Cathedral on Van Ness Avenue. I can't remember a single thing about the ceremony or the party afterwards, but I clearly remember standing in front of my fellow classmate, Ruth Rose, a large African American woman, and saying we'd probably never see each other again. Except for our 25th class reunion, we never did.
It is November 22, 1963 and we have all been glued to the radio waiting for word of the health of John F. Kennedy. We are in a daze when we learn he has died. I leave my office in Birge Hall, next to the UC Berkeley Campanile. I stand on the top of the steps, in the grey foggy air and I look around me, seeing clumps of people standing everywhere, everything so still. The world has changed.
It is 1964 and I am working in the Physics Department. My boss is also my friend and confidante. We are in his office and I am sitting on the table in the center of the room when I announce to him that Walt and I are getting married. He is the first person I tell.
It is April 25, 1966 and we are getting ready to leave for the hospital. I am standing in the dining room and I stop for a moment and look around. "When we come home, nothing will ever be the same again," I tell Walt. "No," he says, taking the suitcase out of my hands. "It will be better." And it was. Three days later we brought Jeri home from the hospital.
It's about 1972 and we're driving in the car--for some reason this picture is in black and white. I glance in the rear view mirror to see if Ned is OK but it's my sister's face staring back at me. "This one is mine," she had said when he was born and on this day the likeness to her face was so strong it jarred me.
It is sometime in 1973 and I am sitting on the grass outside our house in Oakland. David has been playing with the kids who live down the block and he sees me sitting on the grass. He opens his arms wide, gets a big grin on his face and races up the hill and throws himself into my arms. (Ironically, the last time I ever saw him he was standing in our family room, he opened his arms wide, got a big grin on his face and gave me a hug, telling me he'd see us after we returned from New York. But he died while we were in New York.)
It is my mother's retirement party and I am standing with an old family friend who points to a photo of me that I had taken after one of my successful diets, when I was looking pretty good. "That's a beautiful photo of your mother," he says to me. "It's not my mother, it's me," I say, aware that I am many many pounds heavier than I appear in this photo. He argues with me and insists it's my mother. I feel like shit.
It is sometime in the early 1980s and The Lamplighters have taken my advice and held a party in honor of the retirement of contralto June Wilkins. I made and decorated 3 sheet cakes, each with a picture of her wearing one of her most famous costumes. She is overwhelmed by the attention and is just beaming. She doesn't have a clue who I even am much less my role in this party and I am filled with joy just standing back and watching her finally get the credit due her.
It is an office picnic in Putah Creek on the UC Davis campus. The kids have gone down to the boat dock to look at the ducks. Jeri is kneeling at the edge of the dock and is silhouetted in the setting sun, with ripples on the now black looking water. It is a picture perfect moment and I mentally snap it.
It is Whole Earth day on the UC Davis campus and Lawsuit is playing on the Wellman Stage, back far away from the main stage. They aren't happy about it, but they set up. From my perch on a walkway opposite the stage, I can see people pouring into the area. They are stacked several people deep on all the balconies of the surrounding buildings. They are hanging from the trees, they are packed into the courtyard. I am so proud of the band I can just about burst.
It's June 1996 and the family is all gathered in the stands at Cal Poly to watch Tom get his diploma. As he crosses the stage, we can see David's name taped to his mortarboard; we had buried David just a couple of weeks before.
It's 2000 and it's the Sierras and it's the first snowfall of the year. Peggy and I are coming back from our last trip to Lake Tahoe. She has never seen falling snow before. I stop the car and watch as she gets out opens her arms, looks up, and enjoys the sensation of snowflakes. There is such joy on her face.
It's 2005 and it's the bush and Chippa has found a rabbit and is in hot pursuit. She races towards us, ears flapping behind her, mouth hanging open, tongue hanging out. A picture of pure ecstasy.
There are a lot of "movies" in my mind, scenes which have a beginning, a middle and an end, but the snapshot moments are somehow different, more vivid because, like snapshots, they preserve one moment, happy or sad, and keep it intact forever. The odd thing is that I seem to have no control over which moments become snapshot moments or why they are so vivid when there are other memories that you would think about be at least as vivid.
If you want a good laugh, listen to this story from NPR's Story Corps (no video; just audio)
PHOTO OF THE DAY
MILES TO NOWHERE: 57 miles