The persistence of memories
Early this Sunday morning my mother slipped quietly away just as she hoped she would: in her own home, in her own time.In the last couple of years of her 99-year-old life she was often confused, thinking that she was back at Oak Ridge, her childhood home in Florence, Ala. – that the road in front of the house she’d lived in for 67 years in New Jersey turned, just around the corner, into her old driveway 1,200 miles away.My mother vividly described her “trips.” They were not dreams, she insisted, but more like time travel. Fast in her bed, she would just float back in time and space to Alabama, exclaiming later that she had recognized every tree. “It was so real.””Did you see anyone?” I asked her, thinking of my stern grandmother Monie, my lovable grandfather Frank and her little sister and best friend Polly, who died 40 years ago. She seemed puzzled by the question, trying to remember, first saying, “No,” but then it coming back to her: “Sometimes I can hear my mother calling me.”Though I have lived in and loved Aspen more than twice as many years as I did in New Jersey, when I dream I am almost always back in Boonton, in the big old house we moved to when I was 2. I knew the house, the yard, the big trees I’d escape into, the surrounding woods, as well as I knew my own skin.I could move through the house like a ghost, avoiding every creaking stair and squeaking board. I climbed the doorframes, climbed the trellis and played death games with the morning glories by breathing in until they sucked around my nose; I looked down chimneys from the top of the maple tree and bellied between the rows of the vegetable garden, stealing the peas. I knew every nook and cranny, from all angles.Even now I cannot be there without the sense of having one foot firmly embedded in the past. The dachshunds’ bed is no longer in the corner of the breakfast room, and the baby grand piano is no longer in the dining room, but I can still see it that way, along with the wringer washer in the kitchen and sheets flapping on the line.I shed a million tears in my attic bedroom during the thousands of years of my adolescence. I could not wait to get out of Boonton and never had an instant of regret, but I know that as senility creeps in the house will be right around the corner and I’ll be sitting on my haunches by a clear mud puddle in the drive, gently stirring up the velvet mud with a stick.And if asked, I’ll say it was so REAL it had to be true: The mud came up in a small, brown cloud and then slowly, slowly settled back down and the water got perfectly clear. How long did it take? Oh, hours. And then I went to the garden and counted every petal on a sunflower.And did I see anyone?I heard my mother calling me. Su Lum is a longtime local facing the end of an era. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold amounts of suffering and disruption, and we’ll probably tell those stories for the rest of our lives.