Sunday, February 20, 2005

A Memory Box


Mnemosyne, mother of muses, would you have me open this carved wooden box, inlaid with wooden flowers, one rusty hinge broken? Indeed? What will lie inside? Treasure, wealth, fortunes, riches . . .

‘Treasure’ She says. It opens with small sound of twisting cork. And I find . . .

A collection of junk. Is this a treasure? Ah, but let us consider who we are speaking to here. Mnemosyne - Memory - the Titan of the beautiful hair, who consorted with Zeus nine nights in a row to produce the nine Muses. Consider: through her daughters she gave the world all of the humanities. But, what of herself? By birthing memory, Mnemosyne discovered the uses of the power of reason, and gave a designation to every object, which is of the utmost importance, since without names very little could be expressed, and mortals would not be able to hold conversations with each other. Thus she holds the ancient magic of naming, as well as the birth of reason.

But above all, she made available to mortals the power to remember, a great faculty upon which rest many others. She owns all tales, as these could not exist without her power, since each narrating word would vanish without leaving a trace as soon as it appears if Memory would not preserve them. If a person were deprived of the gift of Memory, he would neither know who he is nor what he is. And if he were told, he would not be able to retain that knowledge, and each moment would be for him as the first instant of his life, feeling, thinking, and acting much like a newborn. Then if Memory came to him so that he could remember who he is and what he normally does, but did not assist him in other regards, he would not, for example, be able to recognize other people. In that manner, he would have to make the acquaintance of his loved ones every new instant of his life, incapable of remembering either names or faces, or how he is related to them. Consequently, the meaning of such words as 'mother', or 'son', or 'wife' would have to be explained to him over and over again, and there would be no hope that he would retain what he is told. For, deprived of Memory, he would not be able to learn anything permanently. This is why Mnemosyne is a great goddess, knowledge is inseparable from Memory.

What gifts can Mnemosyne give? Beyond the bountiful gifts of her daughters to the world, reason, naming, recognition, understanding . . . Mnemosyne can take a box of junk and make it into treasure. These are MY treasures.

This, my children is a skate-key. I wore it around my neck on a string every summer of my childhood. I used it to tighten, put on and take off my roller skates. These were not the roller skates you know, where the rollers are attached to a boot-like-shoe, these were a separate apparatus that had to be clamped to the bottom of the shoes we were wearing and then tightened up to fit. My world was outlined in sidewalks as a child, they were the pathways to everywhere. I put my skates on as soon as the snow had good and melted and kept them on until school started in the autumn. Not everyone did, of course. Most kids only skated some of the time, as an activity, but for me it was a necessity. My legs were too short to keep up otherwise and without them I would spend the entire summer plaintively calling “wait for me!” Which, by the way, never happened. With the roller skates on, I went faster than anyone else. If they cut across the grass, I went around, I was still faster. I was only sorry I didn’t have wheels all the time. Coming down the hill in front of our house the wind would fan out my short gold hair, drying the sweat of summer with the sweet, sliding air of speed. I loved it; and I liked the feel of the skate key bouncing in rhythm against my chest.

And this, children, is a Hop-scotch-lagger, this hard rubber disk used to throw and kick out of the hop-scotch. You can still see the out line of a hop-scotch drawn on one side of the lagger. THAT is the proper way to draw a hop-scotch. We had them painted on the asphalt at school in a long, long row. It was the proscribed activity for girls during recess and I even actually did it some times. My best friend Adrienne and I were more likely to be off somewhere playing witches, space aliens or inventing new lands complete with intricate governments, but I did have a hop-scotch-lagger. It reminds me of standing in the hall of the Edith Bowen after recess while everyone takes off their coats . . . the hall is full of that smell of wet snow, wet wool and cold air. I am flipping the lagger in the air and laughing, very loud, with my head thrown back. Some teacher, I don’t remember which, comes past and remarks mildly, “Bring the lagger home for a landing in your pocket, Edwina, and I think about half of that laugh could stay outside. Yes. About half.” I remember it distinctly. Not, “Shut up!” or even “Be quiet!” or “Settle down,” but “I think about half of that laugh could stay outside.” Thinking back on it as a teacher myself, teaching in that same school, I always remembered amid the smell of wet snow and wet wool and cold air, that she was going to let me bring half of my laugh into the building. It was the way things always were there.

Pins. “Go Big Blue” - that is from college. I must have said that out loud six thousands times . . . It was a cheer. It was a good cheer. Simple. Easy. People picked it up. Funny, when you have heard something ten million times it starts sounding not like three words, but one. We went to Nebraska where they were yelling “Go Big Red.” WHAT? That sounded completely bizarre. It didn’t fit. Everyone knows that the words Go and Big only go with Blue.

Pins. “Go Greek.” - No, not a trip to Athens. I’m proud to belong to the Panhelenic Council of National Sororities and Fraternities as a member of Kappa Delta Sorority. It was/is an important part of my life and nothing what so ever as the stereo-type would have you believe. I am continually amazed that people who consider themselves liberal and open minded, who would fight forever against discrimination then turn around and automatically do the same thing to groups such as Fraternities and Sororities. Reverse snobism is fascinating, alive and everywhere.
Mnemosyne gives me beautiful rituals in the dark, by the light of a single candle that were so meaningful, so full of love that bound me to my forever friends, sisters, AOT. I have my sorority rings strung on a chain. They are strange, so small, so extremely tiny. I can’t imagine how I ever got them on my fingers. What has happened to my fingers? Or did these rings shrink here in this box?

On another chain are my High School and College Keys. My kids asked, “what are they.”
“Ummm,” I answered, “Keys, you know.”
“Keys to what? What kind of keys? They don’t look like keys?”
“No, they don’t now that you mention it. We got them at the end of the year for being in activities. They had this key banquet . . .”
“Yeah probably. Look though . . . I’ve got a lot of ‘em!!!”
“Great mom.”

Match Book covers. Hotel Parco dei Principi, Sorrento, Italy. The Snow King Lodge, Jackson Hole Wyoming. The Peruvian Lodge, Alta, Utah. The Sands, Los, Vegas, Nevada, The Spinnaker, Lake Dillon, Colorado. The Antlers, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Hollies, Stratford-on-Avon, The Von Trapp Family Lodge, Vermont, Vail Lodge, Vail Colorado, The Racquet Club, Jackson Hole Wyoming. There was an avalanche. There was a full moon. There was a valley full of mist. There was a baby conceived. There was a tradition born. There was a blizzard. There was an anniversary celebrated Connect the dots.

Love beads. I found them on my bed one night when the world fell apart with a note that said “Love is all that matters in the end.” I laid them on my sisters coffin. I brought them home to this box.

Round black onyx stone set in a star of sterling silver. We saved our money all year so that when we went to Southern Utah we could go to the Indian shops and buy something wonderful for ourselves. I picked out what I wanted the first time we walked down to the shops, unfortunately, I found two things and I could not make up my mind. One was a beautiful turquoise cut in a long triangular shape, the other the black onyx ring. I went back and looked over and over. I fussed about it, I worried out loud. I rung my hands. My brother couldn’t decide either. He wanted a lot of things. Coloring books. A coon-skin hat. Drums. Bow and Arrows. Knives. The last day I went up in the morning and bought the turquoise ring. I spent the day looking at my hand and sort of sighing. Had I done the right thing?

You see this one coming don’t you? We were in the car on the way home before I asked him what he had bought. He dug around in his “car sack”on the floor and pulled out a paper bag. Inside it was the black oynx ring. “Well,” he said, “you wanted them both and I didn’t really want anything.” Unfortunately, we were too young for me to call bullshit. I couldn’t even make him take it back. It wasn’t an isolated instance either. I have a pink furry stuffed kitten which was the entire scenario repeated. I’m sure my brother doesn’t want this kind of stuff to get out, he is a Prosecuting Attorney now and likes people to think he is nothing but one tough bastard. It’s OK Eddie, no one will ever figure out anything from this, I promise. I mean, just because my name is Edwina Peterson and yours is . . . well, a little too close for comfort, doesn’t mean that anyone is ever going to find out your hidden secret. I’ll certainly never tell.

Here is the medallion that says I danced with Dance West for three years. I loved their style . . . Burch Mann said she read Whitman, heard hism say, “I heard America singing . . .” and she answered back in her mind, “I saw America dancing . . .” and she went on to create a dance for America. She always said it had the space of the prairies in it, and the vistas of the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon. Her choreography moved across the floor fast, breakneck, hell-bent-for-something, but graceful and beautiful, with leaps that could have gone over the Grand Canyon. It was hard to do, but fantastically fun and incredible to watch.

A horseshoe with my name across the top. My uncle had it made for me in Willisburg. Everyone always had a big fight about how you should put up a horse shoe. Do you tip it so the u points up? That way all the luck stays in side. Or do you tip it down? It is a symptom of my reckless nature, that I kept it above my door always . . . tipped down. I figured, what good was all that luck sitting up there going stale? I’d just as soon have it constantly pouring down, and I figured that was what it was doing, constantly renewing and constantly pouring down. I got so I could almost feel it, walking under that brief golden shower of luck. Who wants to have a big spludge of stale luck suddenly fall on their head? Not to mention a horse shoe?

A thick silver bracelet band. Across it’s front is etched: LTJG LEE BENSON 3-17-68. It was called a POW bracelet. A lot of us bought them, the money went toward the effort to find and bring home the Prisoners of War from Viet Nam. They asked you to wear the bracelet as a reminder. Most people wore them for a week or so. They were not particularly comfortable, not terrifically stylish. I said I wouldn’t take mine off until I knew that the man whose name it carried was found, one way or the other. I wore it from 1970 until February 1, 1973 without ever taking it off. They told me I had to take it off for Cheerleading, for plays I was in, I calmly told them “no” that it was against my religion. I took it off when the war ended. Perhaps I shouldn’t have. LTJG Lee Benson never came home, he is not listed on the Viet Nam memorial wall, I have been there to see. He is still listed as officially Missing in Action. I laid my flowers near the “B’s” where his name should have been. I went back and told the people at the visitor station that they needed another monument. They said, “Yes, we’ve heard that before.”

Medallion from Egypt - two squares linked to two triangles and a large circle of gold, turquoise, white and coral enamel mosaic. It has the Sphinx, Eye of Ra, Isis and Osiris. I didn’t know what any of it meant, but if formed the center of my “Altar” during my Egypt period. I’ve read all kinds of psychological mumbo jumbo about young girls and ‘Horse Periods.’ I’m slightly interested, but only slightly because a lot of it is Freudian and there for must be take with much salt and because I never had a “Horse Period.” I did have a rip roarer of an “Egypt Period,” however. I was going to be an Archeologist for years. What causes the “Egypt Period?” A need for mystery? For knowledge? For something different? Something foreign? When we are ten, eleven, thirteen . . . while our sisters are out swooning over large bipeds with liquid eyes, why are we dreaming of an ancient civilizations and crumbling ruins?

Ticket stubs: Gordon Lightfoot; Jerry Jeff Walker; Disneyland; Gordon Lightfoot; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Smithsonian, John Denver; Gordon Lightfoot; Monticello, Jerry Jeff Walker; National Gallery, Kennedy Center; Neil Diamond; Simon and Garfunkle; Smithsonian, Cats; Gordon Lightfoot; Disneyland; Kenny Loggins; Dorothy Chandlier Pavilion L.A., A Chorus Line, Olivia Newton John; Ann Murry, Steppenwolf; The Grass Roots; Smithsonian; Gordon Lightfoot; Smithsonian, Neil Diamond; Kennedy Center; National Gallery, Evita, Creedence Clearwater Revival; Smithsonian, National Gallery, Fleetwood Mac; Gordon Lightfoot; Jerry Jeff Walker. Yes sir, I would see Gordon Lightfoot if he came to town again!

A fairly gaudy broach in the shape of a wreath of silver leaves entwined with blue crystals. It just may have been my grandmother’s favorite piece of jewerly. She used to say, “My neck is a wrinkley mess!” as she wrapped a light scarf deftly around it, then she secured it with a broach, usually this one. When she died, they brought out her jewerly and told all of her many, many granddaughters that we might each have a piece. My grandmother had lived in our house, I grew up with her being there all the time. These others did not know her at all. But they picked, beginning with the eldest. I was nearly the youngest. When it was my turn I choose this slightly gaudy blue broach. My aunt hesitated, then decided she should say something. “Honey, you can take anything you want.” I was nineteen, I knew what she meant. There were still plenty of pieces of jewelry there that were worth a lot of money. I shook my head, “No, this is the one I want.” I’ve saved it carefully. It won’t be too much longer before I’ll need it.

Small wine colored velvet box. Inside is a ring made from melting the end of a spoon. A beautiful sterling silver spoon, probably one of a set of demitasse spoons. I have a fairly good idea who has been short a demitasse spoon and for how long. A long, thin gold chain passing through a golden disk engraved simply with the word “Princess.” A small gold band resembling a wedding band, but very small; plain, unadorned 24 ct. gold.

Hello Will. Your face gets around a lot. Your hair is receding old chap, I guess you knew that. It would hardly bother me at 440 either. This, I believe, came off of a pair of earrings that belonged to April when she was in about the third grade. Yes, she went to the third grade with dangling earrings bearing the likeness of William Shakespeare. Probably wearing one white tennis shoe and one back one as well. April has always done precisely what April wanted, that is for sure.

Here is a shell that came from a far off sea, it came from the hands of a friend that I have never seen. It has chambers open to the air as if all its secrets are known. I don’t believe that for a moment.

The Chambered Nautilus

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)

Mnemosyne do you weep for me? You who know and remember all?
Do you weep for what I’ve forgotten? Do you weep for what I recall?
Do you weep for what’s gone unnoticed?
Do you weep for what’s gone unseen?
Do you weep for the moments unremembered and grey?
Or the ones that will always be green?

©Edwina Peterson Cross


At 7:44 AM, Blogger Heather Blakey said...

This is breathtakingly exquisite Winnie. Bravo! Standing ovation!


Post a Comment

<< Home