Tag Archives: memory

Clearing 

Indira Ganesan, Paternal line, 2016

Indira Ganesan, Paternal line, 2016

A ritual that occurs at some point in most of our lives is clearing the home after the death of a parent.  I am helping my mom this weekend clear closets and drawers to help get ready to put her house on the market.  We move slowly.  We stop and read letters, look at diplomas and photographs, and argue over garbage bags.  In the back of almirah, we find a file full of letters from my grandfather, who exhorted my father to save money and not come back too quickly to India.  My father listened. When we finally made the return trip, my grandfather had passed away.  Now, my mother is left with one brother, and me and my brother, and a host of nieces and nephews from siblings and cousins.

Friends and neighbors visit during the day, bringing food and gifts, amid the half-filled boxes and trash bags headed for donation sites. Should we keep the animals made of shells that my late aunt presented us with long ago? Do we say thank you, Kondo-style, and toss? What of the funny clock I got as a nine -year-old, shaped like a totem pole, with plastic eyes that moved with each tick and tock? Hundreds of books, notebooks filled with sudoku, a bag of gift bags and bows? Clothing and shoes are easy to toss, but the ceramics we made as kids?  The hand-made cards? We make tea, eat biscuits, work some more.

Why are there bunny ears in the closet? A relic of my brother’s P-race fare, along with a plastic orange lei.  Toss. A box of albums by America, Renaissance, Jethro Tull, but wait–there is the boxed set of Sandy Denny, The White Album, and the Sex Pistols. Keep. Cassettes– loving made, traded, played? Toss.

Old perfume bottles, knitting needles, sewing kits from hotels.  Photographs. Diplomas.  Paintings from my niece from the first ten years of her life.  My doll Henrietta, with bandaged arms and legs, with clothes sewn by mother, including a fashionable blue corduroy coat, a garden-print dress, and overalls with a tiny jacket to match. I get lost, dreamy, besieged by memory, acute attachment.

Dad.  What have you done to us to make us pack up way before we thought you would?

Everyone’s Paris-II

20140325-092538.jpg

I found Hotel du Dragon on Rue du Dragon, a small street which connected with St -Germain -de -Pres.  Entering the dark lobby, I rang the bell for the concierge.  I dislike ringing bells for people, and I wonder if my entrance was heard.  In any case, I think the concierge was having her meal with the family.  I was asked to pay in cash when my reservation was found, and given a key and shown my room.  Up a staircase to a small room, which had comfortable soft bed, and a zinc Napoleonic bathtub, more deep than wide.  Later, I would learn all about Hotel du Dragon because later, there would be an internet.  I thought it was a hole in the wall hotel, forgetting that no other than the daughter of my British agent had arranged the room for me, and she must have known what would appeal.

There used to be a website for the hotel, which highlighted the rich literary history of the hotel, but the present website is more practical than romantic.  Richard Hugo lived at 30 Rue du Dragon, a medieval street, which in 1991, boasted only a forlorn pizzeria cafe at the end of the street.  I set off for Cafe de Flores very next day, and had a perfect cup.  Outside, men read newspapers, student tourists talked to one another.  My Paris was everyone’s Paris, but still mine.

I would like to go back to that hotel, and see what I can remember, or start again.  I wound up moving hotels after just a night, because I had a peculiar anxiety of being able to exchange my American Express checks for cash to pay the bill.  So I looked up a hotel in a borrowed copy of  Let’s Go Paris, packed my small suitcase, and called a cab whose driver raised his eyebrows when I told him my destination was Hotel Americain.  It was a block away.  I could have walked, I remember thinking, laughing out loud with the cab driver.   (Looking up Hotel Americain on the internet just now, I see it is located in the another arrondissement, so either the hotel re-located or changed hands.  My memory? Mais non!) Nevertheless, I found a room, a dozen or so flights up, with a tiny balcony, with a shower several flights down. I almost immediately locked myself in by accident, or thought I did, but the resulting drama enabled me to meet two charming traveling companions.  Accompanied by baguettes and brie, we set off for Chartres the next day.

 

My Mother ‘s Wings

Mccalls 9605 Sewing Pattern 1960s Teenage Wardrobe for Barbie: Gene Outfit, Coat Apron Dress from http://www.amazon.com/Mccalls-Sewing-Pattern-Teenage-Wardrobe/dp/B007BFLG6O

Mccalls 9605 Sewing Pattern 1960s Teenage Wardrobe for Barbie: Gene Outfit, Coat Apron Dress from http://www.amazon.com/Mccalls-Sewing-Pattern-Teenage-Wardrobe/dp/B007BFLG6O

In an article on Jill Lepore in the Winter 2014 issue of Radcliffe Magazine, there is mention of the compelling essay in The New Yorker on writing about Ben Franklin’s sister. Lepore speaks of her mother building a doll’s house for her out of cardboard shoe boxes, papering each wall, affixing tiny stringed lights. Right then, I remembered my mother’s wings.

My mother made a lot of things for me growing up, including making tiny Barbie clothes; there was a wrap dress in blue zebra print I remember–were they from Butterick patterns?  She made covers for our sofa and chairs, made cushions and drapes. I would make trips with her to JoAnne’s Fabrics, and while my mother dreamed about the fabrics, I would wait impatiently for her, paging through the catalogues of dress illustrations. Although a pile of felt squares housed in a corner cart fascinated me,  I was not really interested in fabric. Unlike my mother, I could not sew.

When I was eight and watched The Banana Splits, a 1960’s version of Barney Gone Mad, my mother made me my very own Snorky elephant, a toy sewn from a pre-printed pattern. I loved it. My father made me boats with out of paper for me, four of them connected together, or one which had foldout canopied seats, beautiful origami that made me long to travel.In a few years, when I took Home Ec, as required by my school, I tried to feed cloth gently to the machine’s needle but I always got it jammed.  I wasn’t good at cutting fabric, I did not understand how to purl and knit, and out of desperation, perhaps, my mother got me to crewel, an easier form of embroidery, using yarn instead of thread.

But what I remembered when I read the Jill Lepore article were the wings my mother made for a Halloween costume.  They were a surprise for me.  Usually I was a witch for Halloween, easy enough with my long black hair, which my mother let me wear unbraided.  But had I been a fairy one year?  She fashioned cardboard wings for me, and decorated them with the bright blue and white stars foil wrappers from Drake’s Yodels.  Every lunch, I would carry a cheese or Peanut Butter sandwich, a bag of Fritos, a packaged dessert, carrot sticks, and an apple.  The carrot sticks would drip to the corner of the plastic bag.  Did she save the wrappers and send me to school with naked Yodels?  Did she ask me to bring them home?

I can call her and find out. 

Part of the charm in writing is remembering, challenging your mind to retrieve half-forgotten details. Remembering the story can furnish the details, which is the opposite of fiction in some ways. I can only remember the wings. I cannot remember the costume or the person who might have wanted to be a fairy instead of a witch or a gypsy, two costumes I do remember.

In trying to find a picture of the yodel on the net that I could use for this post, I discovered the company is bringing out the chocolate cakes again. (If you Google “Drake’s yodel foil wrapper ” and click images, you will find a lovely photo on someone’s Flickr.)  

In calling my mother, she wonders if someone else might have made the wings, and reasons maybe she bought me a packaged costume. I don’t remember the costume, I tell her, but I remember the wings, the way the wings were edged in the starred foil, and how there were stripes made with foil on the inside because, obviously, we couldn’t eat that many Yodels. She wonders if I am thinking of someone else. We both remember me always wanting to be a witch. She said she made a cape, but had to buy the hat because she could not make one. I don’t remember the hat.