Monday, August 1, 2016

Beyond My Ken

I returned recently from what was probably my last visit to my childhood home, certainly the last while it holds a vestige of what it was. Now it is almost emptied, soon to be readied for sale. It has been six decades since I first lived there. I remember how excited I was when I turned ten and could say I had lived a decade, a word with all the richness of history. Then I could never have imagined six decades during which that home was always a kind of home base.The idea was "beyond my ken" my mother would have said, beyond my sight and understanding, far out on that horizon line on which I now perch. 

We were a family that loved words, their layers of meaning, the rustle of history in their folds. When I was young I used to take a word and ponder it until it disintegrated before my eyes into a vast wasteland, a desert void of meaning.

Desert source link
I was going to write of childhood homes and instead I seem to have followed a trail of words into a desert. I write in the early morning, partially awoken by my dreams of that childhood home, lost in the desert of memory. I follow a trail of words to an understanding still dawning, just out of reach, beyond my ken.

Photo by AimeeLow at
I rebuild that home in memory. I am doing the hard work of reconstruction, waking at 4 AM after mentally reconstructing rooms filled with phantom objects, reconstructing thoughts that once filled rooms and held up their walls from within. It wears me out. I wake with confusion to find myself here in my present.

I mine words looking for clues. Did you know that "ken" is called a fossil word? That means it is obsolete, no longer in common usage except that it is embedded in this phrase, "beyond my ken". My childhood home is a fossil home. It no longer exists as it once did save for being embedded in memory. Even this phrase, "beyond my ken", is a memory, my mother the only one I've ever heard speak it. Now she too is memory. Her solid bulk, warm and soft, all memory.

Yesterday I awoke thinking of my mother's everyday plates bound for Goodwill unless I rescue them. "Have they been sent to Goodwill yet?" I text my sister. "No" she replies. I need to make room to keep these memories, those of tactile form. To do that I must empty my cupboards of my husband's old plates that preceded our history. He graciously agrees to release some of his memories so I can cling to mine. I am struggling with this more than I expected.

It has been a year since my mother died. I have spent that time processing her loss and belatedly that of my father. I've written of going through my parents' papers, rediscovering them and seeing them through the eyes of their correspondents and through their own recorded thoughts. Processing the loss of a person should be much more difficult than the loss of mere things. And yet things contain their presence, place contains their history. It is a sequential loss, first person, then things, then place, the place that contained the person, the things, the memories, and both their history and mine. I remove each layer of loss only to find yet another, a Russian Matryoshka doll of loss, nesting within and within and within.

My father's loss was less challenging because my mother remained, still the vessel of memory ensconced in a familiar place. She was my placeholder so I didn't lose my place. Now she is gone and soon place will follow. It is a foundational shift, the tectonic plates that are parents shift and our world is reshaped, the familiar no longer recognizable. Pieces wash up in my cupboards and windows and dreams, trinkets that remain as memories, taking on new meaning in my world of today.

No comments:

Post a Comment