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.
“I wandered off as a kid, just kind of left. I never wanted to run away, nothing like that, but I liked being in my own head and staying there, alone.” Och squeezed the brim of his hat between his hands, bending the thick material together. “I remember once coming home from school, pretending to sleep, just so I could miss my stop. That’s how I thought. I had to pretend to sleep and wake up in case someone was watching. It was just…I just wanted to see where the bus went. I always got off at the same stop and I didn’t know where it went. I wanted to know where it went. And so I opened my eyes like, ‘Oh, no, I missed it. What do I do now?’ And there wasn’t anything. It was all the same, streets and stores and apartments. I stared out the window as we went north. And then it was only apartment buildings, wide avenues and then empty fields. The bus came to a turnaround and the driver asked me if I was lost. I told him that I had missed my stop.”
“How old were you?” Dee asked.
“I don’t know. I think maybe Grade Three.”
“You rode the bus alone when you were eight?”
“I did the same thing on the subway another time. I went to the end of the line. I collected a transfer from every station.” I stared into the water as if he could see his small hands clutching bits of colored paper. “I was never scared or anything. I was just getting off and on the train, collecting transfers. It was so great…like magic.”
I remember being afraid of the dark. I was afraid of being alone. I was afraid of the water, the sharks, the depth and sliminess. I remember lying in my bed, scared of my dreams, scared of what was to come, scared of things on my little body, scared I would die of something too young. I checked for early signs of a heart attack. I ran from wasps. I hid in tiny places I was afraid of. I didn’t want to be alone. I’m still afraid of that. And all of the other things too.
I’m older, not wiser, afraid as ever. I want to get out of that. I want to find myself, some truth, something that will make me the notion I hold inside or holds me. It’s a funny thing, this interior battle, wanting to be another, wiser, braver me. I play that game. And then I pretend that I don’t. I’m better than that. I’m okay with who I am. That’s what I say to myself. That’s my little self con. And I beat myself up and stay hiding, almost believing in my dreams, myself, but more than that, stay that kid screaming inside.