Finding Solace in Fading Memories
What happens when we become outsiders to the community where our existence was molded? Do the structures we inhabit and the lives we leave behind really travel with us, or are they simply a slave to a time that no longer exists?
It was October 20th, 2018, a week before my mothers 57th birthday, when I had the opportunity to see these questions play out first-hand.
My mom is a preacher’s daughter who grew up in rural Mississippi. Her family moved from town to town, where my grandfather occupied small to mid-sized pulpits. I never had the opportunity to meet him, as he passed away just a few months before I was born.
Mom has many fragments of memories from those early days in Kosciusko, Mississippi, but they are almost always missing pieces — names, faces, pictures, locations. Even in the world of digital connection, a major part of my mom’s childhood seems lost to the wind. Despite this, these conversations of the past have always been quick to fall off of her tongue. You see, these moments and pieces of memories simply serve as a starting point for her constant larger search of the past and how time, people, and places fit together. I can’t help but envision it as a search for puzzle pieces on a forgotten island, with a new piece washing up every few months. One piece may fit perfectly, and the other might invalidate the puzzle entirely.
Almost exactly 50 years removed from her time in Kosciusko, it wasn’t hard to feel as though some questions would never be answered and some memories never relived.
Until one normal day when she got a call……offering the complete puzzle picture on the side of the box.
One of the members of mom’s former neighborhood in Kosciusko called her, explaining plans for a meetup of the church group from those days in the mid 1960s. This woman had seemingly done the impossible, tying together a fabric of time from broken names and connections.
The meetup was scheduled for Saturday, October 20th, in Kosciusko. There was no doubt my mother and grandmother would go, and I had to tag along too. We arrived early to have time to visit the church itself, alongside the home my mother and grandmother lived in.
We arrived to the street, pulled over, and opened the car doors, punching our tickets to years long forgotten. We surveyed the house from the outside, recreating old childhood photos.
The events that transpired next were absolutely haunting to me, a 17 year-old senior in high school. A lady pulled up to the church where my grandfather preached, unlocking the doors to the sanctuary to presumably check that everything was okay. My mom and grandmother approached her in hopes of entering the sanctuary. In talking, my grandmother attempted to connect different stories and moments of the past, but the woman had no personal connection or memory of those moments. In those minutes, this mysterious lady, who appeared at a perfect time from seemingly thin air, was a figure planted solely in present, holding the keys to the ghosts of the past.
In those few moments, I couldn’t help but think someone or something was pulling strings in a world beyond my vision. It was a sleepy Saturday shortly before lunch, and we would likely only be there for 20 or so minutes on the long end. But, somehow, this lady appeared at exactly the right time, allowing my mother and grandmother to relive the sermons of my grandfather. Could he have had something to do with this?
We could only stay inside for a few minutes, as the lady had other happenings to attend to. The mysterious wind that swept this lady into our lives took her away just as quickly. The glimpse was fast, but I could tell that it was exactly what my mother needed, a sense of closure.
We moved back to the abandoned home beside the sanctuary, mom’s former home, and attempted to get a better look. The front door was locked, so we were forced to press our noses against the windows to see inside.
Mom grew up here, but she was locked out. There was something telling about this to me. When she left her beginnings, the beginnings, at least physically, moved on without her. The structure she grew up and spent her formative years in suddenly didn’t invite her to enter. Mom was stuck staring into a transparent box that was the source of most of her childhood imagery, with no key to open it. She could see her past, but she couldn’t touch it.
As I type this in my bedroom sitting by my window, I can’t help but look at the window pane. I can’t help but see my future figure glaring inside my room in search of the person I am and the moments I am living at this moment. But he is locked out, and I can’t help him or let him in. He moved on, and I think that is for the best.
Running late to the meetup, we left the home and church to attempt to meet the names my mom remembered so often. We arrived at the MSU Extension Center, and I will never forget what my mom said as we walked in.
“I don’t know what there will be or who I will remember on the other side of this door.”
This sentence struck me as so surreal. I like to think I will remember everything I do and everyone I come into contact with, but my mom’s memory goes directly against this idea. Her memory had betrayed many names, faces, ideas, and moments to a point where she almost seemingly felt like an outsider when entering her own past.
Despite these assumptions and shortcomings, she opened the door…….and felt at home again.
After two hours of fellowship, we left Kosciusko and returned to Amory. I’m not convinced we completely left the past behind though.