Pages of Life

“Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it, but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.” —Henry David Thoreau    Walden

Last week I wrote about turning flip-flops through time. The capacity that humans have of venturing into the territory of reminiscence is a mixed blessing: We get warm fuzzies when we open the trunks in our mental attics and pull forth memories of our olden, golden days. However, those memories also bring an inchoate longing and mourning for what once was and shall never be again.
Bill and I are savers. When he was in junior high he started stuffing scrapbooks with class pictures, his athletic letter that he earned as manager of the Argos High School basketball team, school newspapers, family photos etc.
Last week he decided to get out the big pile of scrapbooks that we shared after our marriage and eliminate anything that wasn’t worth saving. He asked me to look through them and remove anything I didn’t want to leave in them. Frankly, the week of my eightieth birthday probably wasn’t the best time for me to delve into the past. Those scrapbook pages are memory triggers of time past, and my mind became overloaded with remembrance.
I’ve often mentioned Marcel Proust’s story of the madeleine about which he wrote in his masterwork, In Search of Lost Time. He understood how simple things can instantaneously catapult one into the past.
Proust’s little story is one of the most lovely passages in all literature and is worth mentioning again. One time he sipped a spoonful of tea in which there was a crumb of a madeleine, a shell-shaped Breton cookie. An ineffable sense of contentment swept over him. He searched his mind until he remembered how his aunt used to serve him tea and madeleines when he was a boy. Here are some of his beautiful words:
When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered . . . the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment. Once I recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine . . . Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike from my cup of tea.
I feel en rapport with Marcel Proust as if he were reaching across the years that separate us. Those scrapbooks are chockablock with mementos of the nearly fifty-four years that we have spent together. When I flipped through the pages onto which Bill has pasted various items I was swept back into our life together whose places, people and events sprang into being.
There are letters to and from our mothers, my nephew, John, who was serving in Vietnam, Bill’s sisters and friends such as Sherry Forster . , . birthday card and valentines . . . Life beginnings and endings are there: a napkin from the wedding party of Bill’s nephew, Tom, and Mary Jo, Lynn Ray’s wedding invitation and a little memorial pamphlet from Grandpa Kelly’s funeral and the signature book from Uncle Ivan’s.
There are mementos from our teaching and political and community volunteer experiences. There are State Convention badges, bumper stickers, pictures with Mayor Bill Hudnut and letters from him, the certificate of my appointment to the Metropolitan Development Commission. There are “Eastside Herald” articles about the Irvington Halloween Festival and columns written by the beloved Imogene Jones.
There are theater programs and ticket stubs . . . There are postcards of western places that we visited with Vicki, a Yosemete National Park pass and café place mats. . . There are valentines made of paper doilies that Vicki pasted when she was a child . . .
Were we VIP’s, our biographers would have a field day. I culled out only a few items, closed the books and moved back into the present.