Travel Plans

February 12, 2017

Since Cambridge is about an hour and fifteen minutes away from Chestertown, the new Harriet Tubman Museum (opening next month) is on my list of places to visit. I’d like to couple it with the planned commemoration that will mark the anniversary of an event that highlighted the city’s painful past, a huge fire that almost obliterated the African American section of the town.

The city’s mayor, Victoria Jackson-Stanley, who is exactly my own age, is spearheading the planning, with her goal being “not to dwell on the past, but rather to release the city from its hold” (The Baltimore Sun, Sunday, Feb 12, 2017, p. 21). Pain, loss and forgiveness are intertwined, the reason why one must revisit the past in order to try to figure out how to cope in our roles and relationships today.

Jackson-Stanley remembers the blazing of the fires and the sounds of the gunshots on July 24, 1967, the night that her dad had warned them not to go out at all, the night that so much of their heritage and livelihood went up in flames. She was 13 and Black. The only things I remember about 1967 were that I had had 4 English teachers that year, when I was in 8th grade, at a time when one’s personal developmental changes dictate the necessity of stability. I’d felt the loss. I remember going to a Girl Scout event in NYC (my first trip there) and realizing for the first time that my family must not have had much money, since my homemade Girl Scout skirt was the wrong color. The darker, dingy-looking, light-forest green was the closest (I’m certain) that my mother could find before she sewed my homemade skirt, but it was different from the thin cotton, bright Kelly-green of the standard uniforms. I was ashamed as the difference hit me. I’d been crossing the street, en masse, with seemingly a hundred other Girl Scout Cadettes, with the instant realization punching me in the gut about how much The Wrong Color marked me. Too many teachers and a wrong skirt: the life problems of a 13 year old white girl.

I want to go to this planned event in Cambridge because I know how important commemorations are. We need to face truths.

For “exorcisms” (“Exorcising a Painful Past” – the title of the article in The Baltimore Sun) to occur, we need to make showings of support. Last year, when the flying of the Confederate flags was all over facebook, one family member unfriended me for my stand on banning them. I shouldn’t have been shocked – Chestertown is a lovely little college town, but has its own deep history of racism – but I was. Another extended family member said that we should “move on,” that we “don’t live in the past.” Which was why the Cambridge mayor’s comment resonated with me. She will be criticized for dredging up “old stuff” that is “done.” It’s not “done.” She needs me to show up with support for her and for her story. So I’m making my travel plans, and in the meantime, am looking for folks on the streets of our town to see whose story I can perhaps be privileged to listen to.

Shared Things

February 2, 2017

I pulled A Man Called Ove out of our Little Free Library that is in front of our house, and our niece loaned me a book by the same author, Fredrik Backman, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and I read them both about a month or so ago. Both books are about grief, a topic almost always welcome to me, since when the subject crops up unexpectedly, can throw me for a loop. I’ve found that I’d really rather make a trip to that particular place with my eyes open. That way, it’s like a visit to a dear aunt who always seems to have a whole pack of unopened Butter Rum Lifesavers in her purse saved just for my little 5 or 10 year old self, along with her unstated instructions that I don’t have to share unless I want to – a memory to surprise and savor, or to save for a rainy day.

Elsa’s grandmother (in My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry) was a storyteller who knew that “no stories can live without children listening to them.” (p 231) Her stories were made up but they helped Elsa (and others with 8 year old souls) with real life things.

Miploris is the most beautiful of all the kingdoms of the Land-of-Almost-Awake….no one lives there, [the houses] are only used for storage. For [it] is where all fairy creatures bring their sorrow, and where all leftover sorrow is stored. For an eternity of all fairy tales.

People in the real world always say…that the sadness and loss and aching pain of the heart will ‘lessen as time passes,’ but it isn’t true. Sorrow and loss are constant, but if we all had to go through our whole lives carrying them the whole time, we wouldn’t be able to stand it. …So in the end we just pack it into bags and find somewhere to leave it.

This is what Miploris is: a kingdom where lone storytelling travelers come slowly wandering from all directions, dragging unwieldy luggage full of sorrow. A place where they can put it down and go back to life. And when the travelers turn back, they do so with lighter steps, because Miploris is constructed in such a way that irrespective of what direction you leave it, you always have the sun up ahead and the wind at your back.

The Miplorisians gather up all the suitcases and sacks and bags of sorrow and carefully make a note of them in little pads. They scrupulously catalogue every kind of sadness and pining. Things are kept in very good order in Miploris…. you can’t put up with disorder when it comes to sorrow, say the Miplorisians. (pp. 220 – 221)

Sometimes people tap dance, sometimes they’re storytellers; they play ukuleles, they make cookies — all to share.

Once every other week, Alf…drives Maud and Lennart to a large building where they get to sit in a little room and wait for a very long time. And when Sam enters through a small door with two large security guards, Lennart gets out some coffee and Maud produces some cookies. Because cookies are the most important thing. And probably a lot of people think Maud and Lennart shouldn’t do that, and that types like Sam shouldn’t even be allowed to live, let alone eat cookies. And those people are probably right. And they’re probably wrong too. But Maud shays she’s firstly a grandmother and secondly a mother-in-law and thirdly a mother, and this is what grandmothers and mothers-in-law and mothers do. They fight for the good. And Lennart drinks coffee and agrees. And Maud bakes cookies…. (p. 367)

So. Just more reasons why one of the first questions I ask new guests when booking on the phone is “What is your favorite cookie??” You just never know, unless you ask, what the best kind is to share.

Location, Location, Location.

You might notice the WAC Administration Building cupola out of the corner of your eye as you walk onto Simply Bed & Bread's brick path, since our house is just a stone's throw away from the college. Or it might be the ...
Continue reading »