We were, once again, in the den, the back room of that house, occupied today mainly by dust and memories. Nana sat near the wall, perched in her recliner like a queen, while I sifted through box after box on the hunt for something in particular, I wasn’t sure what.
I don’t know if it was one of the first boxes, surely not. I could already feel my nose tickling. I should have worn a mask. Oh, a small baby shoe. Was it mine? Mom’s? His? I put it aside just in case I found the other, but why? What fond memories would it bring back now? Aw, one of Mom’s old dolls. I turned it over to see if it was one of those that Nana made, the ones with a character on one side, and another underneath. No, it was a regular doll, but old. There were a lot of torn paper bits and items that were either illegible or just no longer mattered. Nana trusted me enough to go through most of it without naming each and every bit, realizing that I may throw things out she didn’t know about. She was ok with that. What good would they do her? Maybe bring up old stories?
I love hearing her old stories, and try to record them whenever possible. I might do more of that this weekend when I’m there. I hold on to these tales as if they were strung with gold. They’ll keep me sane. They’ll give me purpose. They’ll allow me to discover who I am, why I’m here and why I do the things I do. And when I look back and read or listen to them, they’ll bring me closer to my family, to those who brought me into this life. And everything will make sense. Of course, I know that’s not true, but they do ground me. And if they’re recorded, at least I’ll get to hear Nana’s voice again, or see her face, when she’s no longer around. I suppose it helps me keep her here. I wish I could have kept all of them here. I wish I’d captured more of Mom’s voice and video, though I’m thankful for what I do have. Although in my home I’m surrounded by photographs of family members, loved ones who have passed on, I wish I could still watch them moving about, hear their laughter, examine their southern and Cajun accents. Though sitting in my living room, or “womb” as it most often is, constantly watching the past in no wake keeps me sane. Wouldn’t that be the definition of insanity? Staying in the past, escaping reality, the present, living human beings? I don’t much like human beings today. They’re greedy, work-obsessed and have no time for life, real life. They don’t question anything. They shuffle and jostle along the conveyor belt, ’round and ’round the wheel, never getting off to see how they’re living, what they’re doing, as if the only things that matter are networking, keeping in the know, their routine, and not falling off that wheel. God forbid they make time to breathe, to sit with their inner noise, to write a real letter, to take a leisurely walk without a destination or a goal. Just be, just for a moment. But if I think about it, when did my family do that? Weren’t they too busy working on the farm? Nana was. She worked and worked, pulling cotton with her father, while most of the other siblings were either too young or faked headaches or tummy troubles. Another thought comes to mind just now, sitting on the front porch of my great-grandparents’ house, snapping peas and beans, laughing and talking, bringing coffee in little cups set on a tray out to everyone. Momo would give me a little too, but with extra cream and sugar. “You better not drink coffee. It’ll turn you black.” This is what Popo and his sons would tell me. And there I’d stand like a deer in headlights, almost believing it, wondering if they were telling the truth, not questioning the fact that none of them were black nor the racial aspects of their joke. I wish I could go back and pick up camellias from the yard and place them once again around that porch. I wish I could feel Popo’s hand against my hair. This time I wouldn’t tell him to stop, that he’s going to mess up my hair. This time I’d hold onto his hands, I’d ask him more stories, I’d speak French with him. No, they took time to breathe, to laugh, to take naps, to get together with family and neighbors. Wasn’t technology supposed to help us work more efficiently, to have more free time? How did things get so jumbled up?
“But did it have the panties from Mandi (Amanda)?” she asked. “No they weren’t in that one.” Then I saw them. They were thrown into a brown paper bag sitting atop of the filled cartons. I grabbed them and put them aside. That’s what we had been looking for back there. “Oh, don’t throw those away.” “Nana, that box of tissues is old and full of dust mites. You’d be doing your sinuses more harm than good if you put those up to your nose.” I threw them in the trash pile. Going through everything was heavy, like a weight of history, trauma, laughter, tears, snapping peas, sugary coffee and camellias heavy on my chest, on my heart. I felt the hands of history grabbing around my ankles. But were they trying to pull themselves back up, or pull me down to join them? There were more boxes to go through. And we needed to get this done, gone. At one point I just wanted to light a match and make it all disappear. But this was important. The process was essential, to revisit these places and retrace our steps back to today, the real today, to make peace, and to move on.