My pal decided she wanted to grind beef. She has a 1954 Dormeyer mixer that her mother gave her. It has been in the basement for almost 30 years. Taped into the instruction manual is a note explaining how to fix the sticky locking lever, signed, “Love, Mother.” It was a sweet voice from the past that made us both cry.
“My mom didn’t have much, but she took very good care of the things she had,” Jennifer said. That is the song of my people.
A friend felt guilty about not decorating her loved ones’ graves today. It’s totally a cultural thing, and where I’m from grave decorations are not a big thing. I never visit my loved ones in the cemetery. But I think a lot about them. In particular on this weekend, I remember my father and father-in-law, both of whom were veterans of WWII.
Last week I had a test done while in an anesthesia hangover. A friend went with me to take notes. I remembered it immediately afterwards, but almost everything has eroded into nothingness now. All I remember is what Jane and I noted as important. So much of the past is like that: our memories are set down by sharing them.
I spent Friday and Saturday visiting two venerable Buffalo hospitals (visits that had nothing to do with me). Sisters of Charity Hospital was founded in 1848, and Buffalo General in 1855. I also drove past my alma mater, Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Founded in 1898, not a single bone of its original shell remains. Since the old hospital looked like the setting of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward, that’s good.
Before you get too nostalgic for old-timey American industry, go back fifty years and wipe down the slag dust that coated my Grandma’s windows every single day. It’s a sign of regeneration that fish are spawning all over the Outer Harbor this spring. I chatted up an elderly boater. “My mom was raised in South Buffalo,” I told him, since we were very near my grandparents’ house.
“My dad warned me to never marry a girl from South Buffalo,” he said ruefully. “I should have listened to him. They have their days and nights mixed up. They party all night and sleep all day.” My mother had the probity of a saint and the work ethic of a draft horse, but I also caroused the bars on Seneca Street in my youth. His father may have had a point.
I drove past Rich Marine on the Niagara River. “That’s where Grandpa kept his boat, and the Grahams’ ketch was tied to that stone quay,” I told my daughter. The scene in my mind was fifty years old, but the setting was unchanged. My ghost boats could have glided in, peopled by their ghost crews, and moored in their old slips.
There are cities where everything is new and ones where everything is old. I was born in an old place; I live in one now. I don’t need to visit the cemetery to memorialize my dead; they are all around me each time I go home. That is a great reason to visit, and an even better one to leave.
Have a blessed Memorial Day. Remember the past, but embrace the future.