When I haven't seen a friend in a long time, conversation quickly turns to family. So, I found myself talking more on the weekend about my parents; about their ways and their own parents' ways too, how they felt about their siblings and the country and time they grew up in. And the likely reasons they raised us as they did. And how that sometimes ended in ways that confused or alienated them, and that confuse and alienate us in turn too.
And it's not like these thoughts are new. But sometimes they leap out and are suddenly less personal. I get a glimpse of myself in the larger landscape of an extended family I never really knew and half-stories that never quite add up. It's a fleeting kind of revelation buried beneath confused feelings and memories both painful and loving. And I'm always struck by the beauty of banal moments for conveying these blameless discrepancies and connections. I like this poem for it, by Mary Oliver.
If I envy anyone it must be
My grandmother in a long ago
Green summer, who hurried
Between kitchen and orchard on small
Uneducated feet, and took easily
All shining fruits into her eager hands.
That summer I hurried too, wakened
To books and music and circling philosophies.
I sat in the kitchen sorting through volumes of answers
That could not solve the mystery of the trees.
My grandmother stood among her kettles and ladles.
Smiling, in faulty grammar,
She praised my fortune and urged my lofty career:
So to please her I studied - but I will remember always
How she poured confusion out, how she cooled and labeled
All the wild sauces of the brimming year.