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Scraps and Unused Ends #3: Family Stories




This is obviously a companion piece to my previous post; it is something I wrote some time ago, and it seems that my feelings on the matter have changed very little.  

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Family Stories

When I was young, my mother told me of one of her dreams.  I was small, single digits probably, but even now I remember it.  My mother’s dream is one common to parents I think; I have had dreams different but similar since the birth of my own sons.

I wonder sometimes about people’s desire to tell others of their dreams because the stories they tell are invariably boring and inaccurate.  I think of the most dark, private thoughts in my own head and the way they are expressed in dreams sometimes and I wonder if it is a favor that God did us that we are mostly unable to remember them.

In my mother’s dream, she was in a speeding car, in the passenger seat.  On the hood of the car was my brother as a little kid, a toddler probably, hanging on.  No matter what she did, she couldn’t slow the car or reach her son.  In the dream, all there was to do was just watch and will him to hang on, just hang on.

My mother’s dream was a parent’s dream, a dream about fear and about the realization that we are not in control and cannot prevent bad things from happening. 

We used to pass stories, my brother and father and I, we would all take turns telling the same story and when we felt the time was right, we would say “pass” and then the next person would have to take it up from there.  My brother and I as children would tell good stories about ninjas and car races and dinosaurs.  When it got around to my father, no matter what the story, no matter what the setting, no matter what, a recurring character named Mrs. Hawiggins would enter the story and change everything.  “No,” my brother and I would shout, “not Mrs Hawiggins!”  But there was nothing we could do; it was my father’s story to tell and he could tell it as he pleased. 

I hated Mrs. Hawiggins.  I hated giving my story to my brother.  My turn would last until someone made me pass it.  I could just talk and talk and talk.  Doing this, writing, I mean, telling stories, I think maybe this is just part of that, keeping the story going, trying to put off the arrival of Mrs. Hawiggins.       

My mother did me the great disservice of telling me that I could do anything I wanted.  I believed her.  Even now I’m shocked when I try to do something and am unable.  It is usually alright to tell these things to children, that they are capable of anything they set their minds to, because they know better.  They do not really believe you.  I did however; I believed anything anyone ever told me, even the big lies like everything will be alright.

My mother’s dream stayed with me all of these years because of the simplicity of it.  I can see it even today: the windshield, the little fingers clutching the top of the hood, the pale little face locked in a mask of fear, the panic, my mother begging for the driver to slow down, Jesus please, just stop the car.  In my version, it is always dark outside and the interior of the car is lit all green by the dash lights.

If everyone dies in order, I will be the last one to remember my grandmother alive.  After me she will be gone completely.  I remember her being nice to me.  I remember that she baked her own bread, and hated when you pulled off grapes but left the stem attached to the vine.  She used to fish and drink cheap beer.  She had a birdbath in her back yard that leaked, and water wouldn’t stay in it for anytime at all.  When she gave me a bath one time, she put an inch of water in the tub and wouldn’t give me any more.  If it had held water, the birds would have had a deeper bath than I got.  I didn’t like that.  I loved big baths that you could almost swim in.  The water got cold in my grandmother’s bath quickly. 

Sometimes I imagine what it was like on the outside of the car in my mother’s dream, imagine my brother hanging on, hoping that his strength stays long enough, praying to his mother, stop the car, please Mother help me, do something Mother, save me from this, make this not be happening, all the while being dragged off the hood by hands of wind, his tiny shrieks of terror stolen away. 

My family shattered in slow motion when I was a kid and the next thing I knew we were all apart.  We still tell each other stories from thousands of miles away, our voices scratchy and tiny.  We lie to each other and say everything will be alright. 

Our lives are defined by stories because that’s what memories are, that’s what histories are.  Even though I have no recollection of it at all, I know that I killed my brother’s duck when I was two or three.  I know that I tried to glue the cat to the dryer.  Hooked up to a polygraph machine, and with no memory of the event at all, I can say with absolute certainty that I beat my cousin bloody because he said he was Superman.

Maybe if someone reads the stories I make up and the stories, like this one, that were written into my memory by fate or God or whatever, maybe if someone reads them sometime and remembers something, a detail like my Grandma’s leaking old bird bath, or that thing about the grapes, maybe someone will remember her.  Maybe, even if there is a catastrophe, someone will remember me. 

In my mother’s dream, she never said who was behind the wheel, if there was anybody there or just an empty steering wheel turning by itself in the dark, lit green by the dash lights as the car and all its passengers are blasted into the night. 

Or maybe it was that ender of all stories, the notorious Mrs. Hawiggins.

RP 4-19-08

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This one is almost entirely true, as far as truth goes.  My mother did once tell me of that dream, my Grandma did have a leaky birdbath.  Mrs. Hawiggins is true too; my dad even spoke of her very recently.

I am not sure why it should be so, but I really like this one.  It makes me feel happy and sad and hopeful all at once.  

Do me a favor and remember, OK?  

Because all we have are stories.  All we are is a mess of stories, all piled on top of each other.

Still Writing, 

RP     

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