Memory can be quite peculiar. On most days I can’t tell you what I ate for breakfast, yet I can give you the phone number to Airport and Intown Taxi, my frequent ride home from late nights in Chapel Hill, if you should ever need it. I don’t know where I often drop my cell phone or car keys, but will win final Jeopardy four out of five weeknights without fail.
I recall with vivid detail the floral print on the wallpaper of my first bedroom… large pink and white gingham flowers with orange centers, each framed with three green and white gingham leaves. I cannot imagine a more perfect wallpaper to match my green and white shag carpet. One doesn’t need much more proof that I was indeed a child of the 1970’s.
I believe I could even sketch the layout of Dean’s Shop Rite, once the only grocery store in town. My mom always had me in tow as she grocery shopped each week. My job was carrying in the glass “pop” bottles to recoup a small deposit. I was rewarded with a trip to the kid-eye-level candy aisle to the right of checkout. The candy cigarettes, those little white, chalky, candy sticks with red tips, were my favorite. I’m still not sure if I was influenced more by my adoration of my Winston-smoking dad or my mom’s best friend, Peggy, who would drive up in her white Corvette every Saturday to tan by the pool. She often wore high-heeled Candies, had a Tervis full of ice-clinking sweet tea, and smoked long, thin brown cigarettes. She was way cooler than Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy from Grease. Peggy still is the coolest, even if the Corvettes, Candies, and cigarettes were left in the 70’s.
Happily I can sing Shaun Cassidy’s Da Doo Ron Ron by heart. Every. Single. Word. OK, I admit it’s not that hard, but it has been almost 40 years since it spun on my turntable. Traces of lipgloss from my young lips can still be seen on my beloved album cover. I treasure it more for the memory of how happy it made 7-year-old me than the legacy it has left in music history.
In the eyes of my children, I certainly earned my satin cape by recently reciting the prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English. I have often joked that should I ever need to showcase a talent on a big stage somewhere, this recitation would surely be it. You do learn really important stuff in high school.
Yet the challenging assignments of a particular junior high English teacher have long influenced me and perhaps opened windows of understanding that I had never thought imaginable.
Among many things, Mrs. Ginns taught me is that there is a difference between affect and effect, and one needs to know the difference. She showed me how to properly use a semi-colon, an underrated form of punctuation; however, it is one that I choose to use as often as I can simply because it reminds me of her.
She looked the part of an English teacher too. She rocked a pencil skirt, flats, and lipstick like no other. Yet more than her proper grammar, punctuation and fashion sense, Mrs. Ginns shared the deep appreciation of the classics of literature: Bronte, Austen, Orwell, Fitzgerald, Salinger, among others, and my personal favorite, then and now, Harper Lee.
It was one of these classics that I remembered upon one winter’s night as I joined my husband and girls in a late night hike after a heavy blanket of snow. It was just a few months after my father passed away and my sorrow was still raw, unleashing itself without warning.
The snow that year was a welcomed one. For me, it always has been. I love how it slows the churning and turning of school, work, and all that weighs heavy on my calendar and my heart. It quiets the earth and it stills me, often just when I need it most.
On this particular night the girls asked me to come along on their planned hike across the farm. We layered on the mountains of snowsuits, hats, mittens and boots and headed out the front door. I’m not sure if it was the moonlight from above, or the white blanket on the ground below, or perhaps the magical combination of both, but we didn’t even need a flashlight to find our way through the woods.
The snow was deep and the conversation and laughter even more so. There is nothing that sparkles quite like the sound of giggles of children in the snow.
Once we crested the top of a hill, the girls excitedly tugged their dad down toward the pond to see the white crystals that covered the water. Yet as I turned to see them run ahead of me, I stopped in my snowy tracks as I caught sight of a church steeple shining through the woods. It was the church steeple under which my dad sat as a young boy and the steeple under which he was laid to rest. The layers of my sorrow began to peel away.
And there in the quiet of that blanketed snowy night, the raven first visited me, or at least it was the first time I had given it the attention it begged. Between the steeple and myself, the raven soared high above the pines. It was eclipsed by the light from the moon or perhaps something much greater. Large and black and gliding ever closer, the raven was breathtaking to see.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
In eighth grade Mrs. Ginns ensured that I was more than acquainted with Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven. I have long remembered it as a dark, morose tale of mourning. The narrator’s journey to madness, fueled in large part by his own melancholy after the passing of his beloved and the impasse of the raven’s words of “Nevermore,” leaves one to feel the heaviness of the hopeless.
However, after the raven came tapping upon my proverbial chamber door that December night, “Nevermore” was interpreted instead with hope and healing. In that time and space, witness to the broad, stately wings in flight above me, I simply felt a deep connection with my dad. I did not believe the raven was a reincarnation. I did not believe the raven was a messenger. I simply felt the bonds eternal between father and daughter. It was powerful. It was spiritual. It was love.
In his own words, Poe wrote that the Raven symbolized “mournful, never-ending remembrance.” In many circles, the bird itself symbolizes death, darkness, trickery and bad luck. For others, it represents prophecy and metamorphosis. I believe in the latter.
I see the raven almost daily now. I often seek it in the skies, soaring high above my garden, drifting along a field as I am driving by, even perching on a power line at my son’s high school graduation. I profess that it’s probably not the same bird. Perhaps it’s just a common crow and not even a raven. To me it’s a matter unimportant. Catching glimpses of those massive wings, broad and beautiful, is now more of a memory of the transformational power of our mourning.
The raven never seems far away.
Neither does the bond eternal between a father and a daughter.
Thank you to the many teachers across our lives who fill our vaults of memory with such good stuff….