In search of story

May 20.19


On Being The Caboose

Do you remember the words spoken of George Washington: “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen”? With a trifling modification, they could be spoken of me: last at the table, last out the door, last to finish anything. I was considered the dawdler, the slowpoke, the Grand Pooh-Bah of Time Wasting. My father referred to me as “the late Maureen O’Hern.”

What nonsense. I was deliberate. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the concept of the clock; it was that the clock didn’t understand the concept of me. I was– ahem — unrushed.

And thus did I become the family caboose. Always, always last.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because now, in a new way, I am last. Of the family I grew up with, I am the only one left. Now no one remembers but me. I am hit hard by this, not least because of my desire to write combined with my amazing inability to tell a story.

Bringing up the rear gives one a certain perspective, perhaps not entirely flattering but in a way whole. Where do I go with that? What words do I give it? I know you understand, dear reader, because you are here. You know about words. We want for permanence; in some pauper’s way, our words give that.





6 thoughts on “May 20.19

  1. Another thing you and I have in common – the last. 🙂 I’ve considered putting thoughts on paper but wonder if anyone cares or would read them. I’m not being snarky just realistic, I think. I’m not sure children growing up these days are all that interested in the written word unless it is scripted and put on You Tube. So, I convince myself it’s not worth it, but maybe it is. I just don’t know. If you figure it out, please let me know. 🙂 Best to you this Monday morning, friend.

    • I’m so glad to hear your thoughts, and of course I chuckled at the part about scripting it and putting it on YouTube. I wouldn’t know how, but it’s not a bad idea! Both my sons and my daughter-in-law are interested in family history and I expect my grandchildren will be some day. It’s the “some day” of it. Some day someone will want to know something. I’d give anything to meet the great-grandparents I never knew, and maybe “some day” a descendant will look at a picture of me, his or her great-grandma or great-great-grandma, and say “I wish I could meet her.” Yes, I think that writing our memories is very much worth it, and, if we’re the only ones with the memories, then urgent too. It gives me the willies.

      • Have you ever had the thought float through your mind – I wish I could ask my Mother or my Grandparents that question and see how it use to be handled? I do it all the time when I’m gardening. I don’t remember my grandparents having all these crazy weather, bugs, pests, etc. that we deal with just trying to grow a personal veggie garden. And, if only I could ask my Mother some sewing questions. 🙂

  2. Oh, yes! But you make a good point: we deal with problems — be they garden or otherwise — that they probably never heard of. I often wish I could hear my parents and aunts, all from the Depression/World War II era, what they think of our political whoopteedoo today. I would love to hear their reactions! I sure understand how you’d want to ask your mom about sewing; I bet she had the same amazing talent you have. That would be a great conversation! It seems to me that it’s possible that some day one of your descendants will wish he or she could have a conversation with you about sewing. Or gardening. Or cookie-baking. It’s an intriguing vision.

  3. Another interesting idea is that as the last, your view is never questioned. I rarely seem to mention any memory without Mum telling me I remember some part of it wrong. My sister doesn’t seem to remember much at all although it is possible we just remember different things.

    I do have some of Mama’s memories written down – just snippets really, but I’m glad to have them. At one time when she was in her late 80s / early 90s I used to ask her things then go home and write them down as well as I could remember, trying to capture her voice. The trouble was once she realised what I was doing, all the stories she told me were ‘for publication’ and lost the character I’d loved. (Mum thinks she got parts of it wrong too!) So my family experience makes me (1) wary to write, (2) somehow thinking that the essence is not connected to facts, or not as we know them and (3) sensing that lightness helps. Mama’s stories lost their lightness when she thought they were being captured.

  4. So wonderful! It is marvelous to read your thoughts and Judy’s on family story! It is so right that there is no one else to correct or contradict when the writer/narrator is the caboose. It’s a solemn responsibility when one is charged with the keeping of the family memory. It is never objective, no matter who is telling. You were brilliant to write down those snippets from your grandma (I’m assuming that’s who “Mama” was), and it was too bad she figured things out. You are also accurate about the difference between essence and fact. I think that’s part of the problem of story for me and where my big stumbling block is. The story should give the essence even if the “facts” are subject to challenge. Thank you for your thoughts! Right now this is all very much on my mind.

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