Photo by Bruce C. Cooper
I will never cease to be amazed how memory, well my memory, works. Yesterday, getting ready for the dinner gathering we were hosting, I was cleaning this and that in the refrigerator. The glass pan of pasta that was our leftover dinner a few nights back was ready to find a new home in a Nancy’s Yogurt container. As I scraped the whole wheat penne, the kamut vegie spirals, and chunky tomato sauce into the plastic tub, déjà vu. Well, maybe not that I’ve lived exactly the experience before but that the motion—the act of moving food from one vessel to another—and I was transported back to the Harkness Co-op kitchen at Oberlin in 1974, standing in front of the industrial kitchen refrigerators with the stainless doors, pulling out the gallon-sized white plastic cottage cheese containers we used for leftovers from the week as part of the process of deciding along with whoever else was the guest cook for the free-for-all Sunday night supper what could be mixed with what and turned into a delicious and savory vegetarian casserole, abundant cheese likely to be an ingredient, of course.
Why that particular, fleeting moment remembered? And why yesterday, an early spring Saturday 32 years far from flat Ohio in another state that begins with the letter O where out the window there are hundred-foot tall trees? Of course, I have no answers for that. But I have learned, this last few years of sitting here so often alone, so often trying to write, to pay attention when a seemingly out-of-nowhere remembrance shows up.
Something in this one has to be about the person I was then: a part of something, a participant in a place I felt I belonged and loved, and remember leaving with regret in 1975—the co-op dorm where we all pitched in, ran the place, cooked all the meals. And, too, that I could see the eighteen-year old me. The me on a cusp, the me still hopeful, the me before. Before dropping out, before throwing a wrench in the promise of my young, struggling to escape, well, Appalachia, really, and the definitely post-flood northeastern Pennsylvania and its world of little-to-no future. Before falling in love—I guess I’d have to call it that now, hindsight’s wisdom looking back—with someone unaware it would take nearly twenty years before the something between us moved out of the unrequited. Before more damage would be done, the stumbles, the falls, the life-changing irreversibles, the picking myself back up, a skinny girl Humpty Dumpty, never the same, forever from then (at least in my mind) a kind of damaged goods.
It sounds bleak to paint the picture that way but in so many ways, it is a version of my truth, the story I recite to myself. And now, what? I’m spending most days trying to find words to speak about this journey, all I’ve bottled up these too many years and tried to send down the Susquehanna River, more likely in an empty beer or wine bottle found in a trash pile on the banks, not the by-now-likely collectible Gorman’s Dairy milk bottle I put into one of this week’s poems. And, in yesterday’s caesura, the silence, the breath, the familiar motion of cleaning out a refrigerator container, the unlit Harkness kitchen on a quiet Sunday returned. Maybe it wants to be center stage in a poem. And now as I’m editing this for final posting, a few faces come into the scene and I’m now thinking it is more like déjà vu, something lived, remembered, forgotten, unearthed. With the quality of the recently re-dreamed.