What is it, I thought this morning, sitting with my journal in the early Sunday stillness, that you create when you review a book through the lens of your own life? Part memoir, part book review; could you call it, maybe, a mem-view?
And then I thought, Wait–what about a ‘rev-oir’? Oh, I liked that–it seemed clever and apt, and so I’ve decided that this blog is just that: a revoir blog, and a way of examining my life through the lenses of the books I read.
There’s that old chestnut about never stepping in the same river twice; I think the same holds true for books. I have books I re-read periodically–the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a wonderful book I discovered in my teens called Pilgrim’s Inn, some of Elizabeth Berg’s work, and others–things that speak to me in ways that make them essential to re-visit. I have had books, too, that were life-changing at certain times in my life but that, on second acquaintance, had lost their tang.
Some books speak to us in real time; some speak to us for all time.
And have you ever had a dear friend, someone whose word and heart you hold very, very close, recommend a book you just don’t get? You start it eagerly; the first chapter is puzzling in its lack of ‘catch’. But your dear one said you’d love this, so you persevere, but the going gets slower and slower. You try; you want to finish it, you want to be able to say you loved it, to discover what it said to that beloved person, to unravel its appeal. Sometimes you make it through to the end, and sometimes,–oh, you feel awful!–but sometimes, you just can’t make yourself interact with that book for one more page.
A book is different each time we read it, and no book is the same for any two different readers. Each of us brings our own lens.
I just wrote a blog post about (of all things) hamburger gravy. That concoction was a staple meal at my growing-up house, and my friend Susan commented that the recipes we have from our mother’s and grandmothers–or fathers and grandfathers, not to be too overtly sexist!–are a part of their legacy that tangibly lives on. I thought about the oatmeal cookie recipe in Mom’s hand-written recipe book, the one that makes a thick, tight dough that I have to press down with the tines of a fork, much like I do with peanut butter cookies. It’s not a recipe I’ve ever known anyone else to make. I suspect it’s a Scottish recipe, and so a legacy-link to an unknown grandmother, a never-met family.
I started to wonder: what else comes down to us through the generations: turns of phrase, ways of chopping a carrot or drawing a face or tying a shoe, items we believe are absolutely necessary for a well-equipped home. We think we are the front edge, the total deciders…but we carry, even when we haven’t met them, the thoughts and decisions, the joys and frustrations, the preferences and aversions, of those who have gone before.
Then I read a lovely poem, “On Legacies”–short, crisp, full of meaning–on a blog I follow(https://kokoboocro.wordpress.com/). It was a pondering on just that: what they leave behind. What we carry forward.
So–I’ve been thinking about legacies lately–the things we receive, the things we give–but it hadn’t occurred to me until I started journalling that it was a theme in Patricia Gaffney’s Mad Dash. I was writing, longhand, about the book–not knowing what the heck it was I wanted to say about it–and I realized as I wrote that the main characters, Dash and Andrew, were struggling with legacy issues, each from her or his same-sex parent.
The book starts with a tearing: Dash, having just rescued a puppy, up and leaves her comfortable home and her comfortable husband, Andrew. Andrew is allergic to dogs, except, somehow, for the wheezing, malodorous Hobbes, who used to belong to his father.
Andrew’s father is still alive, but diminished and in care; Andrew is always shocked anew to see the food stains on his father’s expense cashmere sweaters, the uneven shaving, the unclipped nails. It is a far cry from the meticulous presentation his attorney father had insisted on during his vital working life.
Dash’s mother died just a year before the story began. Her absence leaves a huge, aching hole in Dash’s life.
And both Dash and Andrew miss their only child, Chloe, newly away at college. Chloe has made fast friends–such fast friends that she will be spending the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays away from her parents.
Parents, children–the pins that hold us in place, the ties that bind us together. Without them Dash spins off. She doesn’t know if this is a permanent or temporary state of affairs.
The separation forces Andrew and Dash to deal with the legacies they have chosen to receive.
Andrew’s father is dismissive and demanding. He is forever disappointed and disgusted that Andrew didn’t join the family law firm, and Andrew carries that dismissal into his college teaching. An impassioned teacher, he refuses to put himself forward or to compete for rank or recognition. His father’s legacy is a lack of trust and respect; Andrew spins it into inaction.
Dash’s mother was wise, beautiful, loving. She put Dash first, always, giving up the chance to remarry, hiding her illness. Her legacy to her daughter was selflessness. Dash weaves it into guilt.
As parents, Andrew and Dash have given Chloe roots and wings, and the fact that their child is using her wings so handily stuns them both.
Dash is charming, attractive, charismatic, always in motion. Andrew is rock-solid, dependable, anchored. But both of them, in different ways, are focused only inwardly. And they have been rolling along in established grooves, accepting their lives, accepting those things they believe they’ve inherited, as their dues. Dash’s poorly-thought-through, abrupt departure shakes the pattern. They are forced to look up from their fascination with their own inner workings and consider their impacts on others. They must look at the things they’ve chosen to carry forward from the generation before. And they must consider their gifts to Chloe and to others tied to them by friendship and by need.
My blogging friend pointed out that we must be mindful of what it is we are offering forward. The story of Dash and Andrew fresh in my mind, I carry that thought with me as this week begins.