Siege Diaries 6/19/2021

Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: How can I better keep myself in the present moment?

Ironic that this should come up on this day in particular, when I’m remembering the past. And it’s always a little ironic for someone who loves history. But what this particular prompt is looking at is the importance of prioritizing the life that’s in front of you right now (yes, even right now, in this weird kind of liminal time). And what looking at some old photos has done was to give me some really excellent ideas for future embroidery projects (which I put as “in the present”, as they’d be near future).

My idea of planning for the future is to look out for things that might be opportunities–things I can do now that will set myself up with more possibilities. But it also acknowledges the gift of the present (pun intended)–that’s what must be the primary focus, or else you will have lived your whole life either planning for the future or stuck in the past.

I have forgotten which is which.

On the shelf where I keep the holiest relics, I have two dried roses–one from my mother’s funeral, and one from my father’s. The two events occurred some eight years and a bit apart, but I took the same remembrance from each and carefully dried it, as I had my high school corsages (long ago lost), using borax. I keep the two eternal blooms together in a white glass vase I remember from my childhood; it held pansies and daffodils most frequently, but sometimes a rose from our gardens.

Today is the anniversary of Mom’s death. It has been 21 years. Initially, after she died, having lived her last few years as a frail, bedridden Alzheimer’s patient, it was hard to imagine her any other way than in those final days. She had long before slipped away from us, but the body that still held her spirit firm remained, a daily reminder of human frailty. My dad, facing it all with the equanimity I’d always known him for–steadfast, devoted, finding a way to have her live at home, rather than apart from him–I wondered at his strength, but was not surprised.

Today, a relative posted a photograph of my Dad about the time he met my Mom, and it prompted a dive into photo albums. I found a colourized version of the photograph that was posted, as well as two portaits of my Mom that were also colourized. The one of Dad is not dated, although I suspect it was taken after he had returned from his tour in the Navy, in about 1948 or 1949. One of Mom’s–the one where she is wearing pearls–seems to be dated to August, 1945, which would have made her 20 years old (she would turn 21 later that year). I suspect the one where she is wearing a blue dress is a bit older.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are no photos from my parents’ wedding. This is as close as it gets. My parents attended this Valentine’s dance together about 2 1/2 months before they got married. As someone interested in vintage styles, I think my parents–Dad, with his double-breasted suit, interesting tie, and rakish escaping curl; Mom with her pearls, gentle smile, hair that was much blonder in real life, and iconic 40s styles–look quite snappy. (The fact that Dad’s hair here–wavy, much longer than he wore it later in life– looks more or less identical to the hair in the portrait would seem to nail down the date even further).

It’s easy to forget your parents were young once, that they’d lived through four years of a catastrophic war that broke out while they were in their teens and changed their world irrevocably. Dad might have chosen a different career path had he not managed a Navy supply store while serving in the Pacific just after the war. Mom? She started working at General Motors (where her sister worked on the production line) in the bookkeeping department during the war–a job she kept until she left in late 1966 or early 1967 in anticipation of my birth. (I can’t remember if she made it all the way up to 25 years, but I know it was close.) They did not do what so many couples their age did–have children immediately, whether by plan or by accident. Instead, there was travel, and Dad helped found his company in the 50s. Both were part of large extended families, and there was plenty of support my Dad’s younger siblings involved.

I have lots of photos of these years, many of them with only a date, but full of people. They clearly had a good life, if the photos are to be believed. Eventually, they purchased their home outright (no mortgage), something far more common in those days, and a few years later, I was born. I have photos of their 25th anniversary in 1974; they still both looked younger than they were. And that’s my overarching childhood memory–of parents who, despite the fact they were older, had clearly never left their youthful sense of fun behind. They both loved to laugh. Perhaps that sense of humour that has gotten me though my own tough times was the greatest gift they ever gave.

These memories and stories paint portraits of lives well-lived, both before my own and after I entered their lives. There are stories, of course, half-forgotten, of earlier times, during the 1930s, when things were not quite so rosy; whispers on the wind, but ultimately, tales of difficulties surmounted.

“Grief is love persisting.” That line is the one I remember most from Wandavision, and it describes things well: Over the years, the grief has faded, but the love that gave it birth has only grown, because it is truth and beauty and impervious to time.