Sunday, August 10, 2008

625 words, more on identity

I've been in New Orleans at my parents' place for about a week. This is never easy, for the same reason that it is not easy for many young people of my generation. I don't know why though, but I know the commonality is present. Anyway, last night we went out to eat, and as we were driving home we passed a store on Magazine Street where my dad bought his school uniforms for elementary school. I didn’t know my dad lived near there, so I asked him to show me where he lived. It turned out to be 908 Philip Street. He then showed me the house where he bit his tongue – he has this weird flap in his tongue because when he was playing football once he bit it and tore his tongue. I know this because he is similar to Michael Jordan, whenever he does anything he usually has his tongue out, and is usually biting it. I have these vivid memories of my dad from when I was growing up, and he could be cutting wood, or playing basketball, or washing the car, and his tongue was always out, and the little flap was always there. He then showed me the house where his half-sister Cleo lived; her father committed suicide and her mother couldn’t cope, so his family took Cleo in when my father was in 5th grade and she was a bit younger. This compassion, by people who were so poor, has always put me to shame. Then we drove a few more blocks and he showed me where he went to elementary school: 2001 Constance Street at St. Alphonsus Elementary School. It is connected to St. Alphonsus Church, which is now a Community Center, and was the largest domed building in the state of Louisiana before the Superdome was built. St. Alphonsus is right across the street from St. Mary’s Assumption Church; from what I’ve found they even share the same address somehow so that they both gain national historic designation. St. Mary’s was built for the German immigrants in the area; St. Alphonsus was built for the Irish immigrants. This history is really neat to me, and simply understood as the way things go, rather than negative. My dad told me stories of having to walk out of the school, down the lines in the sidewalk, “or the alligators would get you,” on the way to the cafeteria. He told me of getting left-over buns from the cafeteria on the way home from school, when there were left-overs, and how they would still be warm and were so good. I remember wanting to cry in the car, and now I am. He talked about having to cross Jefferson Ave., a pretty big street, by himself, from the age of 6. We talked about Abigail, my niece and his granddaughter, who just turned 7, having to walk anywhere by herself, and how we wouldn’t allow it because it is so unsafe here now, but also how she couldn’t do it even if it was safe because she couldn’t figure her way out of a cardboard box. We smiled and we laughed, and I thanked him for showing me around, and I feel like I have some more addresses to add to my Identity Box.

And I wanted to share this with you, because of the journey we traveled in the short two weeks we had together. This experience made me think not only of Identity, but also Place, which Steve and I discussed for a bit, and is certainly a theme in Steve’s writing.

Thanks for being really cool people, and leaving your fingerprints on my soul. And thanks for putting up with me and my rambling writing.

7 comments:

Ilka said...

Thomas,
There are so many stories here. It would be a nifty book project...someday. I am intrigued by the snippets and would be interested to know more, especially how you connect to the story told by your father.
Thanks for sharing!

Ilka said...

I'm curious. What are the thoughts behind counting the words in your posts?

Danielle said...

To have a sense of place means not only to know where you've come from and what bits of your history have made you who you are today. It also means to know this part of you and carry it with you - to find a sense of place wherever you may be. I find this difficult when a place of childhood, a sanctuary for imagination and play, is no longer a physical place. To connect to memory becomes somewhat of a melancholy way of viewing place. Everything becomes a metaphor of place, a photograph of a memory, or a passing thought of what once was. It is no longer tangible. The hardest part of that, for me, is the inability I have of sharing that place with my children. It's hard because the stories have no home to reside in - they merely float about and never seem grounded, or even real, again.

I guess, the conclusion has to be that it's okay. To bring myself and my place to my children or just me, means it's okay to tell stories, to touch artifacts, and to keep the tangible place resurrected if only in my mind and written stories.

~Danielle
(Thanks for putting up with my rambling writing as well.)

Larry Neuburger said...

I love the ramblings. As I age, I find those metaphors and snapshots in time to have more significance. I believe my sense of place changes as I draw ever so slowly to the end of my mortality. My memories serve me well. I have learned to appreciate each moment as fully as possible. However, without living in the past or future, I still keep an eye on both. My memories provide me with opportunities to write about, talk about, and think about. When I think about the future, I realize those stories written and told, and those photographs taken will tell the story of my life. The accuracy of the story depends on the number of artifacts collected. The only thing I am concerned about in regards to how others remember me is whether or not I may have spread some joy their way.
Right now, I still have much life to live, but I can also see a day where I am living in a reality where living in my memories is more pleasant. I watch my parents age, and my dad more frequently tells great stories from his memory. I grab onto them because I know I won't have anything except these memories when he is gone.

How's this for rambling?

tmmaerke said...

1. Ilka, I count the words because I think I'm wordy. I try to go lean. There is a real prideful part of me that has these pipedreams of being a speechwriter some day, and making every word meaningful and powerful are essential.
2. Danielle, why is the place of your childhood no longer a physical place? In a personal application, following Katrina, and still now, people in New Orleans have been so adamant about not demolishing completely destroyed homes. There is no way the house can be made liveable; it is necessary for it to be razed. But still people hold on to that place in their life where there was a sense of permanance. It makes no rational sense, other than the indefinable connection between people and place. What about when places become torturous reminders of evil?
3. Larry, I'll listen to your stories all day long. Keep writing them; someday you will pass them on to a great readership.

Valerie said...

Thomas, it sounds as if the time you spent with your dad was so meaningful. Though it meant a lot to you, I'm sure the walk down Memory Lane shared with his son was just as precious to him.

Valerie said...

Thomas, the time you spent with your dad seemed truly meaningful. Though the experience was special for you, I'm sure the walk down Memory Lane that your dad shared with you was just as precious for him.