Specifically, I was remembering a moment from an after-supper evening when I was seven years old. It is a memory I take out and handle rather frequently. Dad had driven the red International pickup down to the village and brought Nana from her house to visit for the day, and Mom, Dad, my sister, Nana and I were sitting on the front porch of the family farmhouse. Her grandfather had built the house and the many outbuildings more than fifty years before she was born.
I remember her gazing off into the distance during a lull in the lazy conversation and I remember wondering then what her thoughts were. She wore a day dress, and her usual black oxfords with heels, her opaque-stockinged legs stretched out across the front edge of the porch; her ankles were crossed, and her back relaxed against a porch post. Her arthritis-gnarled hands, the fingertips all bent to one side (watching her mix pie crust dough, I always thought her fingertips were angled perfectly for the task), were folded in her lap. I can picture her face and her contemplative expression. Her eyes were soft and slightly squinted, her lips not quite a smile.
When that memory came to my mind yesterday, I was sitting outdoors, looking off into the distance. I was admiring the late sun's sparkle on the grass, and the way the incessant gentle wind moved the grass blades and set them twinkling. I was thinking about how the hills across the valley look just the way they did four hundred years ago and how comforted I am by that knowledge. And I was thinking that I was glad the dogs had eaten their suppers without a lot of discord, and how good the sun felt and how if the breeze picked up much more I would have to go inside.
I have, somewhere, 1905 photos of nineteen-year-old Louise, long before she was Nana, dressed in a long white summer dress, standing, side to the camera, in the kitchen dooryard of her grandparents' Elm Row Farm. She is looking down at something in her hands; she is slender and graceful and pretty. Near her in those pictures are her grandfather and, seen dimly, filtered through a screendoor, her grandmother. The bound girl is in the pictures too, also dressed in a long white dress, looking as calla lily-like as Louise. There's no handwritten label other than "1905"on the back of the snapshots, and they appear to be of no particular occasion greater than, maybe, somebody's birthday gathering.
I still wonder what Nana might have been thinking that late-1950s evening.
Was she remembering how the Dutch elms had looked in their glory days before disease killed them?
Was she reliving the walk down the hill from her parents' house to visit her mother's father and mother?
Was she admiring the sparkle of the sun on the grass and sensing the country breeze, same as the breeze against her cheek fifty years before?
And I wonder why the question still rises in my mind. I wonder what about that day, that evening, that moment, opened a slot in my memory and allowed that image and that question to drop in and stay.