Remembering and remembering again

Savannah Morning News column

September 8, 2014


The best idea I heard all week: A button that reads, “I don’t remember names.”

Just the other day, after a summer of patience thinking any minute it will kick in, maybe the middle of the night, during a movie or in conversation with someone, I finally caught it, the name of a delicate, airy, gentle plant I haven’t had for years but that I nabbed at the spring plant swap, a plant that – just to rub it in – I love as much as any, one that has been blooming all summer, a real bee-magnet, she is.

I don’t remember how it happened but just as I was giving up, lowering my shoulders, acknowledging I may never, ever find the name of that darned plant and I better just get used to it, the name appeared: gaura. Spelled but not pronounced like Laura.

But will I remember this?

The other day I was halfway to Vernon View, where I was picking up a boat to visit Sandy West on Ossabaw Island when I remembered I forgot to bring my dog. I had her leash. I had her food. I had every intention of bringing her. She loves Ossabaw and Sandy loves her. I just didn’t have her in the car.

There’s just so much to keep track of.

Lately, if I don’t have a good book at hand I’ve been perusing my shelves and rereading titles that for some reason or another I have kept around and may, well, have forgotten. Some, like Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American,” make the grade and are so good and so packed with suspense and good writing and twists and turns of motive and suspense and complexity of character I don’t even remember the ending. All the better. The plot is important, yes, but so is the writing, the unfolding, the telling.

The same with Donna Tart’s “The Secret History,” something I had no trouble reading again even though, like “The Goldfinch,” it could have had less words and I wouldn’t have minded at all.

I have reread Ian McEwan’s “Saturday” three times and been held in suspense each time. What a brilliant concept, compressing the drama and wrinkles of life into one day.  I expect I will also reread Derek B. Miller’s “Norwegian by Night,” a gift from someone who lives outside the country and has had her mind opened to new books, new authors. Seriously, I am thinking when she sent it to me, I have so many books to read and you want me to read this first-time novelist I’ve never heard of? Correct. This was a brainy and quick read with a story takes place in Norway. How many books have you read set in Norway?

How many books have you read by an Ojibway First Nation writer? Quick: Name three Canadian writers. I nominate Richard Wagamese. This man is a storyteller. I’m already chomping at the bit to read something else by him and then to reread his “Ragged Company,” a compelling tale about four chronically homeless people who redefine the meaning of “home.” This book gave me a different way to look at a population I see every day. That’s what good books do. Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” about life, death and hope in Mumbai undercity, does the same thing; it takes you somewhere else.

Now for the books I’ve tried to reread and could not recommend. Take John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” (no, you take it, Henny Youngman might have said in an old sexist joke about his wife). Stilted. Dated. Slow. The same with “Tortilla Flat.” Not so, Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” That still resonates.

But Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”? Really?

I remember listening to an unabridged copy on a long drive home from Arkansas once when we still slipped cassette tapes into the console of our car. By the time I reached Savannah I had three tapes to go out of the original 14. Never did listen to them. That says something.

I just hope I remember when I see the book at a yard sale.

Life keeps on keepin’ on

Savannah Morning News column

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Maybe it’s the noise, a familiar sign of late summer when the din of cicadas is so loud you can hardly think, let alone talk to the person sitting across the table from you in the backyard (until midnight or perhaps five in the morning and those little tree critters are finally taking a break, maybe even sleeping) or keep your concentration on that book that sits in your lap.

Maybe it’s the new school bus schedules when a whole new bunch of kids with new clothes in clean new school colors are waiting on new corners with other kids they don’t know – not yet, at least – reading cell phones, waiting for buses with unfamiliar drivers following unfamiliar routes, while last year’s crowd is gone, some old enough to ride their bikes to ninth grade classes or lucky enough to walk to a neighborhood school.

Maybe it’s the traditional Labor Day weekend, a turning point of sorts in the year, not unlike New Year’s Day, when the sun sets that much earlier and some outdoor pools dare to close, when you know this will be the last time you can get a parking spot downtown that easily before the crush of art students, when despite the heat you know that another summer is over and the really, really busy part of the year is ahead and maybe if you linger around the dinner table just that much longer and go to bed that much later you can put off the onslaught of future holidays, celebrations and festivals and just breathe, just take the time to enjoy the moment. The calendar, now a little vague, a little open, will fill up soon enough.

Or maybe it was the movie I saw this week, “Boyhood,” a tour de force made over a 12-year span, following the life of a young boy (played, by the way, by the same young actor), a movie that is sticking around in my memory bank.

Milestones, it would seem, are on my mind.

It’s not hard to chalk up a few. Just looking around my own neighborhood from last September to this September I can count two new babies, at least two deaths and one divorce. I know two families who moved away (one to Austin, another to Los Angeles) and three houses that are for sale (two others have sold). I know one household that took off for what seemed like a month in Maine, another that went to the Galapagos, a third that put their money where their mouth is and traded in a traditional gas-guzzler for a battery-operated car. Stretching the concept of neighborhood, I know a brave and adventurous young woman who is teaching biology in Tanzania as part of the Peace Corps, an idea that is still grabbing people some 53 years after President Kennedy launched the program, and another equally brave woman who is starting who second year of teaching, a vocation once thought easy but now considered fraught with challenge.

I know one man who decided at age 68 to go divinity school to become an Episcopal priest. On the other end of the age spectrum, I listen to a phone message by a two-and-a-half year old singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” which, her mother tells me, shares the same melody at the ABC song (who knew?).

I know several people with relatives fighting cancer and that doesn’t count the former neighbor who is trapped by Lou Gehrig’s – a Western dude who used to wear skirts more than I ever did – a disease that will hopefully benefit from the bizarre but brilliant ice-dunking fund-raising caper that has gone viral.

The lesson of “Boyhood” lingers. We grey. We thicken. We mellow. We outgrow height-charts in houses, trade in a GTO for a family van, change our haircuts and hair color. Life, if we are lucky, moves us along.