Monday, February 2, 2015

Nostalgia for the way things never were

Have you ever noticed how you can hold two sets of facts, or two types of knowledge about a person in your head at the same time for years, even decades, without ever noticing the contradictions or the connections between them? 

My mother loved to read, and she loved movies. She shared both loves with me from an early age. The things that she liked reading and watching most were warm family based comedies, and stories that were gently romantic ending in domestic bliss. Among her favorites were the book Mama's Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes and the play/movie made from it "I Remember Mama" and Life with Father  by Clarence Day and the movie made from it. 
I noticed in reminding myself of the author's names that the movie Life with Father came out in 1947 and the movie "I Remember Mama" came out in 1948, both years that my mother was a school teacher living in boarding houses in towns away from her rural home. Meaning that she had more opportunity to go to movies in those years and more freedom to choose movies that pleased herself, than at any other time in her life.  
I duly noted my mother's love of these stories, and read the same books, saw the same movies. The original Dialing for Dollars movie was on an independent TV station in the San Francisco Bay Area and daily it brought  movies from the 1930's and 1940's  into our home. My mother talked about these stories as if they evoked fond memories of childhood. 

But I also knew, in other portions of my brain that my mother's actual childhood was nothing like these books and movies. I knew that my grandmother was frail and often ill, and her illnesses often precluded normal holiday celebrations and family activities.  I also knew that my grandmother had died shortly after her seventh child was born, just shortly before my mother's eighth birthday. I knew as well that my grandfather felt he could not raise a daughter and passed her off to his sister to raise, and that my mother often felt abandoned and unloved as a result. Most of my mothers stories about her actual childhood included included longing regrets for the connections that she did not have, and the sense of being a perpetual outsider in her own family. 

It has only been since my mother's death in 2012 that I noticed the contradiction between the warm nostalgia of the books and movies she shared with me and wounded and anxious memories of her own fractured family life. I realize now that she was trying to create a foundation on which to build her own family out of other people's memories. 


Beryl Ament said...

I just noticed that you are a Sociologist. Surely this is the basis for a lecture which would make your students understand much about their past and that of other family members.

Jim said...

Hi Sue ~~ Was just reading some of my old OSI poems and was seeing who all was still blogging. I am glad you are. Your periodic posts are nice reading, interesting, and educational for me.

I still dabble with the poems, I see you do too to some extent.

For me to feel good about it I really to be writing with a group for ego building. I write fairly regularly with a group called "The Imaginary Garden with Real Toads" [ ]. It is sort of an international group, more U.S. than anything else. The "Real Toads" are elite, the rest of us are "guests". But really more "regular" than "elite".
I like your poems, I saw the last was in January, 2014. You would be welcome to post your next one there as OSI is kaput.

Personal aspect, teaching is great and I tell people that I would still be teaching if I lived across the street from the college. But, ... retirement is great! Mrs. Jim and I have been retired now 16 and 14 years respectfully. We have traveled a LOT. After July we will have been most places that we ever would have wanted to go except for those we crossed off the list because of age and time (e.g. the South Pole, but we could still cruise to Antarctica).
Just saying that because so many of my friend who have retired, a lot even early, had died within three years of retiring. Fortunately I did not, I even waiting until age 78 to retire.