These are the good old days.”
A week or so ago, Emilia and I were outside in the early morning and that early morning sunlight was filling up the world around us as I watered the garden on the east side of the house. I grew up here, just across Lake Washington, and mornings like this touch a spot in my deep memory and feel very familiar, more familiar than the interminable cloudy cold days, so while I was watching Emilia give the plants an extra drink with her little yellow watering can I became a little lost in time.
I can call up a goodly number of memories of just such mornings as this one from the mid to late ’60s, most of them not of discrete, specific moments but more like mosaics of moments similar enough in some aspect — maybe in the time of day or the time of year, or in emotional association, or in their events — that they have fused over time, the details having been extracted and perhaps sealed up in vaults that lie yet deeper in my memory (or discarded, who knows?) so that all that is left is an impression of light mixed with a feeling, and maybe the feeling is safety or contentment or wonder or perhaps even that unanguished boredom that kids get sometimes after doing everything they can think of and just before a burst of creativity that expands their world of play and exploration.
It occurred to me, standing there looking at Millie, that she was having an experience at that moment that may someday inform a similar kind of collage in her memory. Like Cindy Lou Who she is “not more than two”, and according to my understanding she is not yet forming the kinds of memories that will facilitate conscious recall of these specific, quiet moments, but some of the colors and tones and moods are making some imprints and might one day be enlisted in the assembly of some early, vaguely drawn memories of life outside in the garden at her first house.
And even if this moment does become a specific, tagged memory that she can recall in her minds eye, it will not look to her then the way it looks to her now, and certainly not the way it looks to me now. My mind observing her in this moment is full of the whole world of my experience, five decades in which I have been alive and doing things, feeling things, learning things, and not five decades worth of individual impressive moments connected backward through history, like postcards on a string receding in my memory, but fifty nonstop years of a continuum of existence, one moment blending into the next, my position in space and time always preceded so closely by my last position in space and time, my activity part of such an even flow of movement and being, that there can not really be said to be individual moments at all, nothing that you could tweeze out from other moments without pulling the whole fifty year string along with it, everything connected both fore and aft of it. My whole being and experience and who-ness, speaking of Whos, is here in this moment. But in Emilia’s memory none of all that will show in the frame — my worries, my satisfactions, my disappointments, my hopes yet for the future, my idea of myself, my idea of her. In fact I myself will only be hazily represented, if at all. I’ll just be this parental presence standing nearby, blank except for whatever good or ill associations she has so far formed of me — dadness — and my individual self in this particular moment may in fact be replaced by a similar memory of Angela, so that the picture evolves and morphs and becomes like the pictures I have in my own memory. Kaleidoscopes.
That was when I felt myself splintering into fractals, into tiny particles of light and shade and mood, whatever can be remembered finally to paint a memory with. It felt strange to look forward in time and back to this moment, seeing myself virtually disappearing into the future past, realizing that the clarity with which I am experiencing this instant — I am fully here with all of me — will be gone when Millie gets around to calling it back up as memory. It will all be so different, and yet, someday, what she remembers of this moment is all there will be.
It made me think of all the memories I have now of days like this in my childhood. They seem such hazy, thin scenes so disconnected from other memories, but to the adults who shared those moments — my father holding my hand while I toddled or my mother keeping a watchful eye from the kitchen window while I played in the backyard — those moments were all part of their continuum. I ran right off the wharf at the Anacortes ferry terminal when I was very small. I myself have no recollection of the actual moment when my running back and forth ended in my shooting between the balusters and falling the few feet to the rocky beach just below (if it really was the wharf itself it must have been a part that was well back from the tideline). That part of the story I remember only as a story, one I’ve been told all my life. I do, however, have an image of a wooden deck awash in bright Pacific Northwest morning sunshine, and attached to this mental picture is a feeling of expectancy and excitement. I don’t know if it is an actual memory of the Anacortes wharf — it may be a memory of someplace that popped into my mind when I was first told the story and appended itself to the memory. In any case, my parents — who were as a rule very cautious and whose hearts leaped into their throats when they turned around after just a couple of seconds to discover that I was completely gone — brought the fullness of their histories to that moment in time, and none of that made any impression on the clear but very spartan memory that formed in my mind.
So it is now. I stand watching Millie with a brain absolutely stuffed with cellular networks representing arrangements of all the data I’ve taken in over my life, any combination of which could be assigned to the moment at hand as handles for me to make sense of it and give meaning to it, as I’m doing now. But none of it will become metadata for this image in her mind, which will over time simplify and merge with other images and probably lose some of its sharp edges, until it looks like an impressionist painting. In Millie’s experience, it’s just a sunny morning somewhere in time.