Once upon a Memory
From Sea to Shining Sea.
His and her Stories
The History-hikers' Guide
What are the stories our children most wish to know? If my young are anything to go by, the best stories are about when I was young.
Their dad's schoolboy pranks outshine most of my winding, familiar
tales, but each story is treasured and returned to, over and over,
nonetheless. "Oh Mommy, won't you tell us about when you....?", and so
it begins. It's always a new journey, and another chapter in our "hitch-hiker's guide".
Richard Adams dedicated his book, Watership Down, to his daughters, " Juliet and Rosamund, remembering the road to Stratford-on-Avon". In our family it was the annual "great trek" up the coastal road to long, glorious summer. My mother ingeniously told us our travel time in "apples". Seven hours: five apples. We could just about "do the maths".
Traditional "trek" food-stops included a pack of home-made sandwiches (always eaten just going over the first big mountains, in the tradition of my father and my father's father) and "A Big Way" through that second "apple", we ate toasted-cheese under the shady trees. Then we squeezed back into the virtual, travelling fruit bowl, till it no longer mattered how many apples or oranges or anything else were still left because we were "There".
Space makes art and Art makes space. Like "Daddy Richard", my Mama turned the journey into a series of beautiful, green apples that ate time, as themselves.
If we stayed in the "apple world", then the rolling, patchwork quilt
would change to coastal hills and then green dales and mighty rain-fed
"There" was Pops, still getting his VW Combi ready for the next "Great Roadtrip", with his best mate, and Pepi, his Chihuahua. Again, we knew the story that this was not Pepi, "Number 1", but more likely Pepi 3, 4 or even 5. But to us, Pepi was Pepi. Pops lived in a converted-boatshed right on the water's edge. My cousins lived in the house behind. We lived on the water.
Last year I began taking care of the elderly, in my "Hometown". Having left South Africa at 21, "Home" is now a French hill near the village of Coustouges. Until recently, there was only a foot-path over the border into Spain, a route used by refugees fleeing General Franco in 1936. Through the work that I do, I am hearing about the people that arrived in Coustouges first-hand. The old ladies will tell their story, to those who still wish to hear. Theirs' are stories of villages that lived. Of hard work and long hours. Of French relatives returning first, as Franco's rule began with orders for all foreigners to leave Spain. They were welcomed back into the village, by those who had stayed. Then came the waves of Spanish families. Poor as they were, local residents collected food and big cooking pots and fed and warmed the people as they arrived. Many were helped, though many never made it through the rough, winter hills.
the living memory of the elderly are brothers and fathers going off to
war, and the stories of those who never returned. The families grew
forwards, but the old ones never forgot: a father, an uncle, a
favourite brother who always took his little sister up to the big farms for
the dancing in May; hand in hand, happy.
In that particular story, there is a gentle stroke of love, as the
young woman later married one of the farm sons, and they moved
into her village family-home.
When the war came, now as a young mother, she would return each morning
to the farm to fetch a litre of milk for the day; a good hour's trip
before work began at 8am. Her husband worked the earth. They both worked in the factory. Their old folk lived at home.
She was a mere lass of 14 when she began making the region's classic espadrilles, and has lived a long and good life in the warmth of the sun on stones. In the saddle of the hills where the village nestles, the sun rising over the Med touches her old stone house early, built as it is on the terrace over the village. It's a view to keep you grateful; worth a lifetime to enjoy.
She knew my story too. I was another character in her book of village tales and she made me cry. On my first day I realised that we would be friends, despite the fact that she was partly deaf and blind and nearly one hundred years old. The fact that I spoke poor French with a dreadful accent just added to the fun and games. But I discovered she was so alive within her being that communication became easy. She could call me "Fifi" before she got used to "Fiona", and we would burst into giggles. I took her to the window and showed her the direction of my land. Then she could place me.
In another home, the village café of another era, I learned of the power of great love that lasted. How a mother-in-law judged a young woman as "below" her son, and yet the son, followed his heart, till the end of his days. Like me, her first baby did not live long, so we can share sadness without shame together. In all the 60 years her child would have lived, she has never forgotten her. Neither of us ever will.
It is like the last light in the long summer sky, up here, where the old folk stay; have always stayed; will stay until they die. Hopefully. That is their greatest wish. That they can stay in their own house, surrounded by the treasured memories of the homes where they raised their families; lost their husbands; love their grandchildren and yet, now sit in the twighlight, wondering what the day will bring. They are happy to be around for their loved ones, but are more-than-ready to respond when their time comes. They feel that life has left them sitting, alone, without purpose and as I have heard said, "just breathing other people's air".
What's the difference between your great-great-granny, compost and a bag of seeds?
Is there really that much difference?
Compost is often in a corner tucked-out-of-the-way. The place where things break down and return their gifts to earth.
And that bag of seeds, where did it come from? Mother plants. Yup, the old lady who raised a generation, to raise the next. The wisdom of the aged. Where the circle ends, our story begins.
It begins a hundred years ago at the end of memory lane. In the hearts of living people, the stories of life are stored. In time, these stories fade into sunset; into unrecorded history. But it's "The Story" that wants to be told; the dates clamouring to be registered; the events lining up to be recorded, whether dramatic or mundane. In time, only photo's and keen descendnts could tell you what I know now. Lives cross and track time, but they are small and often unknown. They walk no further than the local farm for milk, or no further than one trip to Paris. There are those that travelled away, or grew up in strange lands. And yet, they retun home to retire. They are quiet. Their lives grew so much bigger than these hills, and yet these hills are home. A place "makes" a people. People make "a place".
If I could chose a story to tell my kids, it would be their story; a story that has their voice, their ears, their thinking in it too. It would trace the journey's of their day, with all the routines and chance events, and would link to the story of the people who lived here before; are still here and have started to tell me their story.
Home-made Art. Art-made home
Somewhere over the horizon
Circles hold the universe. In the movements of sun and moon, earth and stars, the draw of the centre is everfelt. We are home within the roundness of the circle's arms, in the fullness of her contained space. In between womb and tomb, is a living world, a full circle.
A circle takes our idea of linear living, and turns it inside out. In travel, there is always more “journey” than destination; so the mind seeks the further horizons, walks the extra hundred miles, and yet in daily living there is infinitely more return than departure. It is in the endless cycles that a circle starts to make sense. We can easily see how the travel of a lifetime, is a dance on the spot; a turning in time. That is what the circle really says; there is no need for more, all is already here.
In permaculture, every raw material comes from an unused “waste” product. Every end is a beginning. The day is seen in small and big circles, visiting those in need of daily-attention often, and making a bigger turn when it is time to care for those who enjoy their wilder nature, further away.
In gathering herbs and fresh salads, the day is given a time and space to spread its cloaks. The planting, watering, harvesting and eating all have a place at the big “round table” and that includes the dishes, grey water, compost and leftovers. In a circle, nothing is wasted, everything has its place in the whole. Similarly, we have our place, in the bigger circle of aliveness; both a privelege and a responsibility. It is in the nature of things to change, to dissolve, to seek new form, and a circle expresses this with precision. It expands to hold more, contracts when it empties, holds the invisible boundry that defines a territory, a home, a being.