Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Secrets We Carry



I started out this morning thinking I was going to tell you about a man I met on South Padre Island a few years ago who had been living on the beach, or the writer whom I briefly met in Santa Fe when he was reading at Collected Works, a downtown bookstore I'd been frequenting for many years. In the space of a few minutes he may well have changed my life. But then, a story from my childhood intruded and wanted to be told, so I'm putting those stories aside for now. I'll get back to them.

Why this story came to mind this morning had to do with a poem I was reading in which I was reminded of a purse I once belonged to. Yes, there was a time when I belonged to a purse. This was an old leather purse with a lock given to me by Grandma Korich, who wasn't really my grandma but lived in a house on the edge of the woods up at the corner where our country road met the highway. Her house had never, to my knowledge, seen paint, but was in a perpetual state of gray abandonment.

When I was twelve years old, she went to live with her son in International Falls, leaving her house alone and unlocked. One day, my pal in summer exploration, Michael, who happened to actually be her grandson, came by, and looking for a way to spend a summer day we decided to check out her house.

When we walked into the house, it felt as though I had walked into a dream where I found myself in an old black and white photograph and was about to discover what was hiding in the corners, what had been left behind that might provide clues to her life and perhaps even to my own. Standing in her living room, looking out those empty windows, I saw only a gray landscape; the world as I knew it had become black and white.

We didn't find much on that long-ago summer day that captured our childish attention except for a large stack of small pamphlets devoted to developing one's bosom. Michael didn't know what a bosom was and so I enlightened him, followed by awkward giggling and then a strange silence. We continued to move through the house silently and then, just as silently, left. It was as though we had uncovered some knowledge previously known only to Grandma Korich who was now many miles away in her new life, which should have made owning that knowledge a little more comfortable, but it did not. She was Michael's grandmother. I felt I knew something I shouldn't and I wasn't even sure what it was.

The previous summer, perhaps in anticipation of her move, she had given me the leather purse that locked. She surely knew, after all those years, how much I loved purses, but something else came into play that she may or may not have known. Having this purse made me feel I had been given a sacred duty. I was the carrier of the secrets. I'd walk down our dusty road with that purse over the crook of my arm with an air of self-assurance only that purse would allow. Unlike the amulet bags of my ancestors, it carried nothing but my secrets. I didn't know what the secrets were, but I knew they existed. I still feel them, nudging the corners of my consciousness, not dark, not sinister, not even bleak, just secrets. All these years later, I'm only now beginning to learn what they are.







Painting by Winslow Homer

33 comments:

  1. Oh, a beautiful memory. I know what you mean about parts of your childhood being in black and white. I have times like that in my own past, too. Other parts are incredibly colorful. Why is that, I wonder.

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    1. I have heard others who describe all their memories of childhood as being in black and white. I ask myself, what does this tell us about the nature of reality? Is life a dream of our own creation? But, that's just me... :)

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  2. Teresa...bout time you write a book!!! a book of short stories!!! This is wonderful...

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    1. Oh, sweetie, you're very kind. I have a couple of folks pushing me in that direction. We shall see... :)

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  3. I hope Grandma lived a good life after she left.

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    1. Our family went to visit her a year or two later and I recall a sunny little house with lots of knickknacks. I don't recall how long she lived after...

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  4. I enjoyed this story so much. turchoisemoon is so right - write your book! I recall wandering though my grandmother's emptied house after she was put into a nursing home and finding her trunk of "treasures" all strewn about. Some things just break one's heart. Aloneness breaks mine; the silence is so loud.

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    1. I also have a memory of a trunk in my grandparents hayloft...perhaps another story there. The silence of aloneness can be deafening. I do understand...

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    2. I want to add Sissy, that I talk to people who live with others and still feel alone. The presence of others is no guarantee of dispelling that...

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  5. Secrets Made Solid & Portable & Easy To Carry.Sounds Like You Carried Them Ease & Care.

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  6. Abandoned houses are a treasure-trove of different perceptions. I'm reminded of the film "The Trip to Bountiful" that I saw back in 1985. I had to smile at the picture in my mind of a 12-year-old girl walking down the road with a locked purse on her arm like an old woman. My mom always carried her purse that way.

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    1. I love that movie. Horton Foote wrote some memorable screenplays that became movies, as well. Really good story telling. Yep, you have the right image. :)

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  7. I often wonder if what I remember from my childhood is fact of fantasy. But everything is exaggerated, ultimately technicolor; vivid scenes in a similar context to the movie "The Ten Commandments". Not because they are religious, but because they are wonderfully unbelievable.

    And as those secrets reveal themselves to you, where are they kept now?

    Beautifully written Teresa. Your writing is crystal clear and full of images.

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    1. I made a decision at a specific moment in my childhood that I would plant some memories firmly in place. Perhaps I knew on some level I would want to write about them later. Writing is an early love... :)

      Secrets floating around waiting to be share only when and if the time is right... :)

      Thank you so much, Bill.

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  8. Beautiful - I'm on board with the others, you really should gather these stories to publish!

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    1. Li, you are such a good writer, so I do take that compliment seriously. We shall see....

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  9. I feel like I have just been given a gift, Teresa. A gift of memories that I think we all have of those secrets we do carry. You have written this so beautifully. So poignantly. A beloved teacher at the grade school the girls attended passed away a few years after she retired. She lived, alone, in an apartment in town. She rented a second apartment for her "stuff", some of it from her years teaching at a reservation in Arizona in the '50s. Imagine the jewelry, the artwork. I went to the estate sale, bought a little something for the girls to remember her by, but left feeling as if I been somewhere I shouldn't have been.

    You could not have selected a better painting to accompany this.

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    1. I plan to have enough time to winnow and then hope my sons really do know me as well as I think they do...:)

      I just found that painting image today and I knew.... He was such a wonderful painter.

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  10. Yes. I like good secrets but never having had a purse or a bosom I wouldn't know how to rate these. Bad secrets is another problem...:)

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    1. Some carry their secrets in their hearts. Bad secrets need to be kept to a real minimum and then dispelled at the first opportunity. The key is not to burden someone else with our secrets.

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  11. Such a thought provoking, evocative post. You've reminded me exactly how I used to feel about a dark green leather writing case I was left by an aunt I hardly knew, when I was a child. It had a zipper around it, much like the cases Christians carry their bibles in. Blotting paper inside because of course one wrote in ink, and compartments to keep papers, envelopes and a stamp book. I felt it was a solemn responsibility to own it. Or maybe as you say, to be in it's possession.

    Any useful advice to pass on to us gals from those pamphlets?!

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    1. That sounds like a wonderful case to hold important papers. :) Every child should have one.

      As far as advice goes, I don't remember a thing. :)

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  12. You are absolutely right - secrets are the strangest of objects : neither comfortable with being shared nor comfortable in being kept hidden and isolated. I suppose it raises a wider question : can anything have value in isolation, does any secret kept entirely have any meaning?

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    1. That's an intriguing question you've asked, Alan. My question would then be: if shared does it lose its value, its meaning to the secret holder? :)

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  13. She was a very wise lady who knew how to tickle the imagination of a child!

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  14. Yes it is exciting in a mysterious kind of way to go through an abandoned house. There was one like that next to my brothers house in the country. The doors had rotted away so we just walked in. All the furniture was left but it felt spooky walking through someone's house.

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    1. All the furniture still there? How intriguing. It would be hard to resist a walk-through.

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  15. This is in response to your exchange with Alan Burnett.

    Abandoned houses creep me out, as do secrets. Recently, very recently, my best and oldest and only life-long friend gifted me with a series of email exchanges which evoked from with me the words I have been wanting to put together for myself for a lifetime. Gold. It's all about your eternally present past. You need to get it out: no secrets from yourself.

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    1. I don't think we should ever have secrets from ourselves. It would be self-destructive. I do think we each have a somewhat secret self we hesitate to share openly with others, though. I like your statement "It's all about your eternally present past." So very true. I'm also a big believer that we have the right to let the past go and move forward without the baggage it entails.

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  16. Fondest memories drape our thoughts in colors of joy, while painful ones undress ourselves in tears of sorrow. A secret remains a secret only when it secretes soundlessly into our conscience. Some of it brew our lives into maturity. But, some secrets are too painful to keep forever, lest they bury us alive. Very meaningful writing and it evokes the fondest memories in me of many things silently stilled by time.

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    1. It's always a joy to hear from you, you always leave such thoughtful, insightful responses and this is certainly no exception. None of my secrets were secrets that happened to me and therefore painful, they were and are really the secrets of my truest self, the self I am still revealing and feeling more and more at home with, and it feels really good. I'm so glad it evoked fond memories for you. It's very nice to see you.

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