Alongside a pile of castoffs left in front of a house just down the block from where I live, stands a clean white board posted with the red letters “F-r-e-e”. This hand written sign invites all who pass by to examine its offerings. Here, while taking a break from my writing I’m unexpectedly ushered into the life of a woman who no longer lives in my neighborhood.
Focusing hard to find some sense of order in the discarded pieces of someone’s life, my eyes are drawn to the lid of a very old shoe box. Lifting it out of the stack while half searching for its bottom portion, I notice a few lines of shaky handwritten words penned on its underside. “My first granddaughter to get married 8-8-87. time 3:30 pm in the afternoon. Stephenie and Jack”. The bottom part of the box found deeper in the pile still holds a pristine pair of white satin pumps and more memories written across its end “8-8-87 for stephanie’s Wedding on Saturday at new Hope B. Church Color White satin Pump”
These white satin pumps which were still nestled safely inside graying tissue paper had just a few scoff marks on their shiny black soles. These were not shoes that were worn often. Their pointed toes and stiff narrow sides had needed some altering to make them comfortable for the grandmother who wore them. For this purpose an oversized heal cushion had been tucked under the spotless satin pad which ran along the inside length of each shoe. All clues to the life of this grandmother, who would do what was expected of her, dress accordingly and make herself as comfortable as possible.
This now absent grandmother had in her own handwriting with her own chosen words, kept a diary of a very individual design. She was saving a memory for herself and I believe because she wrote it down, for someone else too. This grandmother saw a time beyond herself when others would be thinking of her. She imagined a person; someone who would need this brief description to know the facts. On August 8, 1987 this grandmother was present at the afternoon church wedding of her first granddaughter to be married. She was elegantly dressed.
Not too far away from where this woman once lived, I sit with my computer day after day in a small garden house. Mingling the process of writing and the spirit of imagination I strive to bring to light the lives of the women who were my grandmothers and their grandmothers and their grandmothers. I write to reassemble pieces of their history, plans they imagined and memories they kept. Perhaps, like the absent grandmother in my neighborhood, they had saved clues for someone who would one day come looking for them. Most of the clues however, have been discarded, in I imagine, bundled heaps much like the one I came across today.
This newly discovered message box and its decorative handwork encourages me in my focus and my solitude. Its highly personal message challenges me to imagine the private way in which each of my grandmothers recalled her cherished moments. Ways which might have been learned from her own mother and passed on or not to her daughters. Ways which might not have included the written word or even scraps of paper. But surely ways, in which each held memories privately and importantly inside her own “shoe box”.
August 23, 2004