"What we remember from childhood we remember forever-permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen." - Cynthia Ozick
The sound of roiling tan water rushing down the hill behind my childhood home after a hard rain; the lilting chime of laughter as we children played on the dusty road in front of our house; the soft meowing plea of my cat, Tiger Lily, who was deliberately killed by a neighbor's son; the chirp of a solitary cricket in the middle of a dark night - these are the sounds that haunt me even now in this late chapter of my life. Late chapters are fraught with ancient sounds.
The August lily my grandmother planted beside the concrete steps leading from our front porch and onto that dusty road; the bucket of sun-shimmered water my grandfather had "drawn" from the well in our yard; the black leather change purse my grandmother snapped shut after handing me a quarter for my lunch when I attended Stonewall Jackson High School; the USO jukebox with its side-panels of swirling shades of orange and yellow; the wondrous sight of the evening star as I gazed into the heavens, saying, "Star light, star bright/the first star I see tonight/I wish I may, I wish I might/To have this I wish tonight"; my 35-year-old mother folding clothes in the Elite Laundry; my 92-year-old mother's hands on top of which were tiny blue veins drawing a map of her rivers of life; her long, graceful fingers with no deformities despite her age; her fingernails covered with bright red polish as she lay on her death bed, the in-your-face color she had chosen throughout her youth - these images travel with me even now in this late chapter of my life. Late chapters are fraught with haunting ghosts.
The innocent aroma of twisted strands of licorice I purchased in a small grocery store at the foot of our hill; other scents intermingling with that of penny candy, scents of spicy lunch meat and fresh vegetables grown in West Virginia gardens; the weary stench of cigarette smoke and the malty odor of beer on tap as I walked past Cat Eye's at the bottom of the same hill, only on the other side; my grandmother's brown gravy bubbling in an iron skillet; the awakening whiff of morning coffee perked on a gas stove sitting cattycornered in the back of our kitchen; the fragrance of Evening in Paris perfume contained in a tasseled bottle of cobalt blue and shaped like a lab tube - these childhood smells waft alongside me even in this late chapter of my life. Late chapters are fraught with losses.
Writing this column three days before my birthday and four days before my Stonewall reunion, I'll enter the large room and for a frightening instant will wonder, as Marcel Proust did, where all my young friends have gone. Then, I'll look closely and there they'll be dwelling in the late chapter of their own lives. They are the remaining friends who "stayed over" to share memories of our young days under the summer sun. This, then, is every person's story who has experienced the peaks and pitfalls of aging and remembering.
Contact writer Dolly Withrow at ritew...@aol.com.