by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
September 9, 2003
WHOSE MOMENT IS THIS, ANYWAY?
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- When 80 years pass between her writing a line and my reading it, all the impact of that moment in her life is diminished in this moment of mine. For instance, in 1927, she wrote in bold block letters: I HAVE BOBBED MY HAIR !!! Every other line in the book and those in all succeeding years is written in her smoothly-penned Palmer Method of penmanship where an occasional splatter of ink spots betrays her haste.
So, as I read about her bobbing her hair, although it suggested a story underlying her words, it meant little to me. I, who have not worn my hair hanging lower than my ears in my entire life, looked at a photograph of her taken before that date in 1927. Her hair was long, dark, twisted, then piled high atop her head. It would take her entire Saturday to wash her hair and dry it, perhaps in the sun in Summer, with towels in Winter.
This was an insignificant reference going from her moment to mine until I put myself in the middle of her moment and could feel the freedom from care, and, if nothing else, the absence of its weight alone crowning her head would be something to celebrate.
It wasn't difficult to go from my moment here to her moment there because I brought into focus one of my moments in time where I felt freedom from care and the absence of weight, not "on" my head but "in" my head where it had dragged me down until that moment when I knew I was free. I wrote in my journal that night in big block letters: I HAVE STOPPED SMOKING!!!
Our son, Tom, wrote to our family e-mail list recently about a moment in his life when he was six. I was there; I was in that moment but I'm astonished to learn it was so different an experience for each of us.
My rabbit, Lily, died under strange circumstances. Before school, one morning, I went out on to the chilly porch and found her on her side, stretched out - stiff as a board. I can still feel her rigid body in my hands. Was anybody there who could help describe the scene for me? All I can see is the little boy, still chewing on his oven toast, excited to see his rabbit, pushing open the porch door to find his rabbit on her side. He thought she was asleep, at first, but quickly determined something was terribly wrong. Lily appeared as a blurry mass of snow white through his tear filled eyes as he grabbed her gently in the middle and picked her up. She didn't bend. She was straight as an arrow, hard as an overstuffed bean bag, and it was apparent she had been dead for quite some time. I don't remember what happened after that, other than the fact that the little boy grew up with intimacy and abandonment issues because of a childhood forever after plagued with the death of Lily. It must have been the lettuce; I should have washed it.
I prepared that oven toast; I buttered it. I followed him outside onto the porch, I saw the rabbit, I knew she was dead. I saw Tom holding back tears but biting hard on his toast. The rest was just as he wrote for him and a sad moment for me, seeing my son so crushed, so devastated.
I remember Lily's funeral, buried after being placed gently in an abandoned galvanized rural mailbox no longer functioning but pressed into service for an elegant funeral. To me, it was one of those things, that was that; we handled it as elegantly as we could and Lily fell into place in our family lore. I've never thought of her since ... until the moment I opened Tom's e-letter.
So, there was Virginia's moment bobbing her hair, and my later moment on a different occasion feeling the same way. Then I write of Tom's moment that I shared in time and felt about in an entirely different way.
Now I wonder about feelings triggered in a moment by say, a song. I first heard "September Song" as sung by Walter Huston. You may remember him as the father in Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney. Or, as the real life father of Director John Huston and grandfather of Angelica Huston; I remember his half spoken, half sung rendition of a powerful song he introduced on Broadway.
"For it's a long, long time, from May 'till December, but the days grow short when you reach September." His raspy voice told the story of a love affair for real, and for life, the calendar is the metaphor. "When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame, one hasn't got time for the waiting game.
"Oh, the days dwindle down, to a precious few - September, November, and these few precious days I'll spend with you, these precious days I'll spend with you.
"And the wine dwindles down to a precious brew ... and these few vintage years days, I'll spend with you..."
The first moment I heard that it was in May, the May of my life, and it had impact. That's what I want, I thought then. And, that's what I grasped and held on to for all these years. Here it is September, both a calendar page and my life as well. The days are dwindling down to a precious few, the wine has become more than a precious brew.
The same song, two different moments. In May, the song was tender - sounded like a plan. And now, in September, with the days growing relatively short, John is in the kitchen popping the cork on some vintage wine.
"Come, fill my cup, John," although I don't know how he'll manage that, it's already overflowing.