Some years ago I began writing an autobiography, not from vanity, but because I thought it would be more interesting to write than read. “Challenge” has been my watchword lately; in this case the challenge was, well, challenging: to write my own life without using any of the first-person personal pronouns, “I” “me” “my” or “mine”. Give it a try. It’s hard to write about self without them.
My thought was to define who I am through my surroundings. The people I know and love (and some I dislike); the objects and artifacts that surround, tempt, frustrate, offend or fascinate me; the literature and art and music that give me joy and satisfaction; am I the intersection of all that? The working title—”It’s not about me: an autobiography”—still seems a good idea.
So, here I am, writing about characters—people, really—who inhabit my imagination. They have been just as hard to define, especially when I can’t actually show them to you.
Miss Rose Kavana, for example, is an amalgam of several teachers in my experience. All of them come from grades one through five, those impressionable years. Miss Hletko and Miss Rapp set the stage, but then things turned dark when my mother left and parents divorced; teachers assumed a larger role (though they didn’t know it). I now recognize them standing in for the missing Marge. A composite of these women (they were all women) may yet appear on eBay, but until then her home and some of its decor will have to present Miss Kavana to the world.
Howard visited Miss Kavana’s home once, delivering something from his mother; he might have been eight or nine. I could feel him standing at her front door, nervous, self-conscious, studying a stained glass window above the bench that defined her stoop; then ringing the bell and smiling when she looked down to see him. It would be years before he could fully appreciate her invitation to step in, her gracious acceptance of the package he’d carried so carefully. She asked him to remove his cap and sit; offered to brew some tea; presented a plate of ginger snaps; inquired about his father—who she had also taught—and then presented an envelope to take back with him for Mrs Tabor. He asked what was playing on the phonograph and learned of Frederick Delius’ “Brigg Fair”. It may have been the first occasion when he felt at ease in the world of adults. Howard left feeling taller somehow and remembers his visit even today, not something half a century behind.
What other memories might return before the show is hung? What other artifacts arrive?
For the time being, I wonder what was in the box he brought and the envelope he carried home.