Great Aunt Ida’s memoirs focus on her childhood in the late1900s: These days would now be thought of as the dark ages by the present generation – when young girls of gentle birth were not allowed the freedom of conduct which they have today. Most telling is her language, simply offered, reflecting insidious racism: …where the darkeys singing in the harvest fields, the village church sounding faint and sweet on the quiet air of a Sabbath morning.She goes on to relate a terribly revealing anecdote: The brother was known to everyone as Tommy did fine cabinet work, but they seemed to move so silently and unobtrusively through life; there was a story that Tommy had been wild as a lad and when he was out one night carousing with some other boys of his own age – it may have been Halloween – but anyhow a stone thrown by someone crashed through the window of a negro’s cottage and killed a baby asleep in a cradle. No one ever knew who threw the stone, for the guilty one never told, but in a very few weeks Tommy’s dark brown hair had turned snowy white. Having heard the story, he was of course an interesting figure to us – though he was now a middle aged man.
My Great Aunt Ida wrote down her memories, dating back to her childhood in Maryland during the late 19th Century:
I have thought many times since my hair has grown grey and so many things that have been so important to me have seemed to lose their importance with the passing years, that I would go back home and visit the scenes of my childhood, make a sentimental journey, as it were, to all the places that are so indelibly stamped on my memory……the guinea hens roosting in the cedar trees late in the fall and being very noisy first before a storm: the bees buzzing among the roses and the holly hocks all through the long summer…..the great oak trees that sheltered the spring where water was always so cool and clear: the back lane that led out to the dirt road and the huge cherry trees…She somberly concludes her brief reflections with thoughts on her days living in 1940s New York:
When I am wearing a thick coat in April in New York and feeling resentful over the late spring, my mind invariably travel back home and I feel again the soft air, smell the fragrance of the blossoms on those far away hills – it is a very real sensation – one that I have loved and kept close in my heart for a long time and like many beautiful things – it is better to keep put away – for fear it might be lost or shattered.
Whenever you think you have it bad, read Kafka to realize how much worse things could be:
Once more the odious courtesies began, the first handed the knife across K. to the second who handed it across K. back again to the first. K. now perceived clearly that he was supposed to seize the knife himself, as it traveled from hand to hand above him, and plunge it into his own breast. But he did not do so, he merely turned his head, which was still free to move, and gazed around him. He could not completely rise to the occasion, he could not relieve the officers of all their tasks; the responsibility for this last failure of his lay with him who had not left him the remnant of strength necessary for the deed. His glance fell on the top story of the house adjoining the quarry. With a flicker as of a light going up, the casements of a window there suddenly flew open; a human figure, faint and insubstantial at a distance and that height, loomed abruptly far forward and stretched both arms still further. Who was it? A friend? A good man? Someone who sympathized? Someone who wanted to help? Was it one person only? Or was it mankind? Was help at hand? Were there arguments in his favor that had been overlooked? Of course there must be. Logic is doubtless unshakable, but it cannot stand a man who wants to go on living. Where was the Judge whom he had never seen? Where was the high Court to which he had never penetrated? He raised his hands and spread out all of his fingers. But the hands of one of the partners was already at K.’s throat, while the other thrust the knife deep into his heart and turned it there twice. With failing eyes, K. could still see the two of them immediately before him, cheek leaning against cheek, watching the final act. “Like a dog!” he said; it was as if the shame of it must outlive him.*
(The end of Franz Kafka’s The Trial)
I recently used a long flight to catch up on my bad movie viewing and so settled back to daydream through the summer blockbuster San Andreas. I admit to having been initially interested in the movie, having been, as a child, very keen on the 1975 film Earthquake, complete with Surround Sound. And while there were certain similarities between San Andreas and Earthquake – and every other disaster movie ever made, with its vapid focus on collapsing things, screaming people and heroes impossibly triumphing through it all – this film is almost solely derived from images of our mass-media natural disaster consciousness, The 911 Attacks in New York and Thailand’s 2004 Tsunami most of all. These traumatically ingrained images have been transformed into moments of cartoonish fun, which years ago would have been blasphemous and now are just a vehicle to profits. Kind of like the manner in which we cope with global warming – something to spin and from which to derive short-term profit.