I was listening to CBC... I start a lot of stories that way these days. I am addicted to Radio One. I know I am not the only one! I am often in the car on Wednesdays. I have a regular coffee date with my dear friend and her daughter so I listen on the way there and the way home for sure. On the way there it is the Debaters and I often laugh out loud. And on the way home I catch the tail end of Writers and Company, my new favourite show. The authors are just so fascinating and the way they speak is so eloquent and lyrical. This week Eleanor was talking to Eva Hoffman. I caught such a short bit but it was so good (actually the end of her interviews are usually the best part). Her latest book is called Time. So they were talking about time in general. And she said "the present reconstructs the past". I know that I have always known this but the way that she spoke about this really brought it into focus for me. It is truly amazing how our stories change. In so many ways and for so many reasons. Perhaps they change purely due to the fact that our memories fail us but often it is so much more than that. Ultimately it is because that person we are as each day passes is new. We are seeing our history from a new assemblage point with each passing minute. So with the veil I wear today I will see my history differently than with the veil I will wear tomorrow. Fascinating isn't it? Our stories are not static. They are as full of life today as the day that they played out. Shifting and changing as we need them to in some cases.
This last week I have been getting the email updates of a friend that has just had her tonsils removed. I had mine removed at the age of 7 or 8. She is in her thirties. When I heard that she was going in for this day surgery it immediately took me back to my memory of my tonsillectomy. It was a defining time for me. I remember it very well. Back then it was a few days stay in the hospital and I had to be overnight in a strange place without my mom. Of course a lot of what I remember is not clear. The passage of time has taken its toll on many of the details but there are a few things that have stayed with me. I remember that there was a girl a little older than me staying in the same room that had just under gone back surgery. She had a rod in her back and was unable to move. The nurses would come in and rotate her from one side to the other every few hours (or maybe it was twice a day). I talked to her from across the room but I wasn't really supposed to get out of my bed. I also remember promises of ice cream and jello leading up to the surgery. I recall that going down a hallway lying flat on my back was dreadful and that hospital porters should respect that and slow down. 100, 99, 98, 9...... I remember feeling ripped off by those promises of ice cream when afterward ice cream was not even close to enough to soothe my raw throat. And I really remember this one incident over a bowl of oatmeal.
My mom had come in for a visit on one of the evenings following my surgery and she had asked the nurse about my meals. She was very excited to tell me that the next morning I would get porridge. This was one of my favourite things. I loved being in the kitchen with my mom when she made the quick oats in a sauce pan on the stove. It would bubble and burst while she stirred them down with the wooden spoon. I loved the little volcanic eruptions in the pan as the oatmeal spewed a little lava with each bubble bursting. The sound, the smell and the anticipation. It was often served on particularly cold mornings and I would alternate between watching the oatmeal boil and sitting on a heat register at my mother's feet. The promise of a meal like this while I was in the hospital held the comforts of home and I was tickled at the idea of it. That night I literally fell asleep with thoughts of oatmeal dancing in my head. I dreamt of the warm, soft oatmeal mixed with the cold milk and brown sugar. How I loved the hot/cold and salty/sweet perfection in a bowl porridge. In the morning I silently and eagerly awaited the sound of that food cart coming up the hall. It arrived without much fanfare on the hospital gray tray and I lifted the lid to find a cold, solid ball of oats. And if that wasn't enough of a disappointment... I can clearly remember the lump forming in my raw throat at the realization that there was not a spec of brown sugar in sight. So I sadly poured the icky 2% milk (not the skim I was used to) over this gooey, grey sludge and tried to gag it down. I think as I was trying to stomach it my mother arrived for a morning visit. I could feel her disappointment too. I think we cried together.
But of course this story holds a whole new tenderness for me. I am a mother now. I feel my mothers heartache as well as my own. I imagine her rushing to park her car and run up to my room to steal a few minutes with me before having to rush off to tend to the needs of her other three children at home. I see my disappointment, fear and frustration as if they were the emotional mine field of my own school age child. This memory is somehow closer to me now then it was a few years ago even though chronologically it is further away. Time... In poems, plays and books time has been written about as a character. Sometimes even given a human form. Father Time, for instance. We joke about time playing tricks on us. We struggle with not being able to reconcile details of our history in the stories we tell of it. But perhaps it is just this. Our history is more akin to folklore and the oral tradition than it is to a factual account. And we are just once again caught up in this crazy media driven culture that has a quest for knowledge, facts and numbers. The Wikipedia Age.
I say screw it. Let the details blur and melt together. See your history as a watercolour landscape. Let your story be as rich and alive as you are. Allow yourself a chance to examine your life anew every once in awhile. It gives us a chance to feel as if we have lived more than one lifetime. The path behind us as mysterious as the one that lies ahead. In a few years when I think back to that porridge again I wonder what I will see...
Thank you, Laurel for sacrificing your tonsils last week so that I might take this journey again. To see my mom in another new and tender way, to see my girls through the eyes of my childhood. And thank you Eva Hoffman for reminding me that is what I was doing.