They sailed away, for a year and a day, —from “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat,” by Edward Lear (1871)
To the land where the bong-tree grows […]
—from “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat,” by Edward Lear (1871)
It’s January 4th, 2018, and I’ve just added last year’s engagement calendar to the stack in the office closet. That makes twenty; I’ve been saving them for a while now. Twenty years’ worth fits in a compact space:
As I’m shelving 2017, I decide to pull another year’s calendar at random. It’s 2011. Opening it to a week in July, I see that Glen and I had two dinners with friends and attended a Dwight Yoakam concert with two of those same friends. I had a hair appointment, a lunch date with a girlfriend, an Austin Poetry Society Board meeting, and sternly reminded myself to “pay electric @ HEB!” I glance through a few more weeks, finding notes of surgeries on family and friends, funerals, a wedding. Five minutes later, it’s back on the shelf with the rest.
Why do I hang onto these calendars? I don’t really know. They aren’t diaries. The entries are sketchy, at best. It’s not as if reading them will transport me back to the hour, to the electric energy of the moment, that Dwight Yoakam took the stage. But there is something about flipping through these pages, despite the cryptic quality of some of the entries (“PUNCH HOLES!”), that makes that time tangible again. And oddly, it’s the utter banality of most of those days, rather than the excitement or the trauma, that serves to make them even more real.
The good thing is, saving those calendars doesn’t require much room. I wish I could say the same for the family memorabilia that I’ve been saddled with since the early 1970s. No one else would take it, so I became the designated relic-keeper. It wasn’t my idea; it was my mother’s, presented to me as duty, a sacred trust. Some of it, from my father’s side, dates back 140 years or more. The very formal letters of courtship that passed between his mother and father. His mother’s riding habit. Old reel-to-reel commercially recorded tapes of popular music. (Why was there ever a demand for such a thing?) My mother’s collection of 78s. Photographs from the late 1800s, of a little boy in a dress and very long blond curls, as the fashion of the time dictated. If my mother hadn’t taped typewritten labels to the backs, I would never have believed those photos were of my father. (He’d be 125 if he were alive today.)
Why ruminate on temporality and keepsakes now? Well, in the month following Thanksgiving, I finally finished unpacking the last of the moving boxes in the “forever home” garage. I’d put off the memorabilia till the very end because the decades it spent moldering in a series of other garages meant it was in disgusting condition. What hadn’t crumbled into dust was crawling with silverfish or freckled with mouse droppings. As I wiped the pieces down before transferring them to large, sturdy plastic tubs, I was overcome with a giddy thought (probably a symptom of incipient hantavirus): Why not throw it all away? Anyone who at one time might have been interested in that stuff was long gone. Oh, it was tempting! But guilt stopped me. Someday it’ll all be Katie’s problem. Just like the sewing basket.
Among the spiders and dead moths, I found some much more recent memorabilia, though: keepsakes from Katie’s early childhood, and some drawings I’d made in the month before she was born. Mutant floral designs, which, out of some misguided notion of “nesting,” I’d thought I would embroider on a quilt:
These, in turn, made me remember “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat,” a favorite of Katie’s when she was a little girl. Unlike some of the books that bored us senseless after we’d read them to her countless times, it was one that Glen and I always enjoyed too. Now, after all these years and all our adventures, Glen and I settled in what we hope will be our last home, The Daughter soon to turn 30 in hers, I heard myself reciting that poem of Edward Lear’s while unpacking these final few things. The Owl and the Pussy-Cat embarked on their journey “in a beautiful pea-green boat,” with only themselves, a small guitar, and “some honey, and plenty of money, / wrapped up in a five-pound note.” I’ve never tired of the reckless, glorious enchantment of their romance, and that two such different creatures found in each other a soulmate.
And hand in hand on the edge of the sand
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
Imagine that. A “nonsense poem” as a metaphor for life.