Words are keeping me awake–the words of a friend I last saw when I was eighteen. From the sky into my inbox, the words exploded in a world I hadn’t conjured in a long, long time. We played remember when, and as the days (and nights) since then have passed, the pictures in my mind appear in more and more detail, like those Polaroids that seemed miraculous in my youth. The ones spit out from the camera–a bit of fog at first, details gradually emerging until, perhaps fifteen minutes later, the scene appeared.
If my images were initially fuzzy, they came complete with sound–I met this friend at a music camp that also offered dance. So there’s music yes, particularly the faculty tenor ‘s voice as he sang the Bach “Bist du bie mir” every night as we went up to bed. On top of the fullness of his oboe tones and the lied’s haunting melody, runs the sound of the younger campers’ chatter as on Saturday, we led them in groups of four, on a mountain climb. I, being there to teach ballet, was assigned to group one, the assumption being that a dancer should surely make it to the mountain top. But those kids! It seemed they never could get winded, however fast I set the pace. (Burke Mountain was the easiest. We walked up a road. On Mt. Mansfield, Mt. Garfield, Mt. Washington, we were climbing rocks. There was a path. Don’t think ropes and carabiners.) The descent was harder. The children talked while my knees had turned to rubber, not knowing when to bend and when to lock.
As the details come more clear, scents come back. The dusty, varnish smell of the performance barn. That whiff of mountain air in early morning. And later in the day, new-mown hay, accompanied by the hum of mowers, the clack of tedders, rakes, and balers. Aroma of New England food served up in the dining room, foreign to my childhood. Salmon P. Wiggle. Red Flannel Hash. (The magenta color still puts me off. What is in that stuff?) Milk from a cafeteria dispenser we called The Cow.
Campers and faculty alike lived at Burklyn Manor. Circular driveway with a carriage house connected by a portico. Ceilings with relief designs in plaster, flocked wall paper–faded, but not falling down. Worn carpet on the stairs. Hardwood floors we dust mopped every morning after breakfast. Out every window, mountains. Blue, not purple. Slate blue.
There are tactile memories, too. The crisp brown paper tied up with string wrapped round our laundry sent out by truck and returned, once a week. The driver’s shoulder pressed into mine when we crowded into cars to go to church–our choir sang every Sunday morning–or on the weekly trip to town. The melt of maple walnut ice cream on my tongue. (I can’t yet see the ice cream store. A drugstore, perhaps? With a soda fountain? Did it double as the bus station in that little town? I think there was a bandstand, too. A hotel with rockers on the porch? Or was that Lyndonville?)
All this conjured from the fog, by a few words on a page.
I wonder at the miracle of language. Darwin was unable to explain it. You put a few acknowledged symbols on a page and up pops a world, in this case one I’d lived in, but that part doesn’t matter. If the world is made complete–with concrete sensory detail, it exists.
Quite like God we writers get to be.