“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” John Banville, The Sea
I haven’t accomplished many of the tasks that I thought I’d get to during covid quarantine. I didn’t reorganize the kitchen cabinets or the linen closet or my basement study that we took apart for needed repair. I’ve written some poems, revised, listed thoughts for new ones. I’ve researched a project that’s intrigued me for some time, but I haven’t had the gumption to start a new novel. Poems are calling to me these days.
Lately I’ve been having Zoom critiques with a writing friend, Laura, and that’s prompted me to take a stroll down memory lane, especially my childhood and teen years and college experiences. What a pleasure, looking back to staying at The Sinclair By the Sea at Virginia Beach for a few years, and modelling at Miller & Rhoads, and swimming at Moore’s Lake and Lake Chester during sultry Richmond summer days.
Today I took out my sophomore yearbook. I have no idea where the others are; my parents always purchased them. I fear they were in the old college trunk where I stored memorabilia. That trunk was flooded in my parents’ basement, but my older daughter retrieved in and has it in her basement now. She says some things were destroyed, and she’s thrown them out, but some weren’t. I haven’t had the will to sort through the things she was able to save..This one yearbook, the 1961 Marshalite, was on a shelf in the kitchen. Others might be in book boxes in the attic that I never unpacked when we moved into this house almost twenty years ago—another project postponed—or in that unopened trunk. I don’t think that neglect was out of some Freudian fear. I’m just a creature of habit and memory lane hadn’t gotten my attention.
But while doing freewrites with Laura some memories from high school piqued my interest and I pulled out that 1961 edition. The names and photos gave me instant recollection of classmates and events, joyful moments and sad. This book was my brother’s—he was two years older—so the inscriptions were to him, not me. I really need to find those other yearbooks.
One teacher, Miss Mary Peple (the teachers went by Miss or Mrs. In those days, just a fact), awoke my love of words with vocabulary study. Her Public Speaking class was demanding but stimulating, too, and I still have our textbook—one of the few we had to buy in those days so we could learn how to notate. Miss Mary Virginia Daughtrey, my biology teacher, chose me for her lab assistant that year. Both these brilliant women encouraged me to go to college; I don’t recall any other teacher planting that seed before or after them. Mr. Wiltshire was the young, handsome French teacher. In his class we only spoke French. I’ll never forget the day he asked Arthur Long “Combien des oreilles avez-vous?” or How many ears do you have? Arthur answered “J’ais vingt-deux orielles,” or I have twenty-two ears. We all stared at Mr. Wiltshire who struggled for composure.
Going through that yearbook has nourished seeds for at least twenty poems. I’ve jotted pages of notes in my writing journal: Autograph books, messages in yearbooks, my PE teacher Miss McKenney who we considered creepy ’cause she “checked up” on us when we were taking showers, the two librarians we thought were “queer,” that label we used too freely back in the day. Another embarrassing memory: “Dixie” was our fight song we cheerleaders performed, dancing the Charleston to it at pep ralies and home games. Just ugh. Richmond has its own dark history of closed-minded citizens and racism. I doubt teenagers there are as naïve as I was. That’s what writing is about, according to Kurasawa: “Art is not averting your eyes.” That’s true for poetry, too. Shame is part of the truth. My advisor at VCU used to say, “The work must be done.” I agree. Honesty is part of the work.