Authors: Don J. Snyder
The Cliff Walk
From the Point
A Soldier's Disgrace
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC
Copyright Â© 1999 by Don J. Snyder
Walking with Jack
copyright Â© 2013 by Don J. Snyder
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Owing to limitations of space, acknowledgments for permission to reprint previously published material may be found on
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Snyder, Don J.
Of time and memory : a mother's story / Don J. Snyder â 1st ed.
p.Â Â Â Â cm.
1. Snyder, Don J.âFamily.Â Â Â 2. Novelists. Americanâ20th centuryâFamily relationships.Â Â Â 3. Young womenâPennsylvania Biography.Â Â Â 4. Maternal deprivationâPennsylvania.Â Â Â 5. Single-parent familyâPennsylvania.Â Â Â 6. MothersâPennsylvania Biography.Â Â Â 7. MothersâPennsylvaniaâDeath. I. Title
469Â Â Â Â 1999
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 99-28513
But so with all, from babes that play
At hide-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.
omeday, if we live long enough, we will tell our love stories to a stranger from down the hall, inventing what we must to explain the rush of time and the uncertainty of our place in this world. By then we will have forgotten what we once simply chose not to rememberâthe slamming door, an angry glance from across the room, the cutting blade of a sentenceâand in the telling of our stories we will see again, or for the first time, how blessed our hearts were to have loved at all.
But who will tell our love story when it outlives us?
Or when it drifts beyond the reach of memory?
Who will see you under starlight laying your head upon his shoulder? Who will watch you leading a child through the snow or dipping a new baby's feet into the sea?
And what if we outlive our love story?
Who will hold our old dreams up into the light at dawn again or remind you of the afternoon when you took a daughter into the city to buy her first ballet shoes?
And who will rescue us from the deep, perplexing loneliness of life?
If I see her leaning on her cane, I will remind her how she used to take the front stairs two at a time to reach their bedroom, to take her place beside him.
Find the blond-haired boy whose father taught him to throw a football.
Summon the friend she drove through the night to sit with and persuade of his worthiness.
And if the tree that held the tire swing is gone, even if they've erected a bank teller machine where it stood, stay there a moment anyway, and remember her showing you how to pump your legs and fly above her head.
Let someone dream us all back to life someday. Back to the blue kitchen where you rolled out your pie crust. Back to the fireplace you lit at dusk against the autumn chill. Back to the roof you hammered down in a thunderstorm when lightning raced along the heads of the nails.
I have been dreaming my mother back this way, going back across the years that lay between us to run my hands over her love story. It is a story that was buried with her in the August heat of Pennsylvania in 1950, sixteen days after she gave birth to me and my twin brother. She was nineteen years old, and until last year I never knew anything about her, where she was buried, who her friends were, how she had died, what it was she stood for.
I began searching for her because my father, her husband of less than ten months, is an old man facing his own end. Let me say that for fifty years of his life the pain of missing her prevented him from remembering. And now that he would like to recall her, would like to tell me about her, the tumor in his brain precludes this.
It seems preposterous to me now that I would live almost fifty years after my mother died and still know nothing about her. But this story I am telling here, her love story with my father, could never be told by anyone but me because it was never remembered. Because it was too exquisite in its beginning,
too terrible in its end, and the time between the beginning and the end was too brief, it had to be forgotten then. Or, let me say it more precisely, it had to be unremembered. That is it thenâan unremembered love story, true in every aspect, preserved behind the heavy door that was closed against the sadness of its end.
I am telling her story now for my father, an old man who was the boy who loved her. And for her, the girl who was my mother. And for you if you are in love, or out of it, or trying to stay in love with the person you have pledged yourself to.
Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story, that it lies behind us like a shadow, waiting only for us to turn and face it. And in facing it, face ourselves, perhaps.
It was a slow turn on my part. And it began on a winter night in Maine. I was up late with a sick child who, in her fever, kept asking me for a doll that I had not seen in years. Our children's desires so often oppose our own; because she had awakened me from a deep sleep and because I had to be up early the next morning, I wanted to make this middle-of-the-night dance a quick fox-trot, but in my daughter's clear, wide eyes I could see that what she wanted was a slow waltz.
For a while I tried to placate herâa glass of juice, a Popsicle she could take back to bed with her. Nothing worked. Finally, I wrapped her in a comforter and carried her up the attic stairs. As we searched beneath the eaves I felt the heat of her fever through the blanket, and when the only dolls we found were no better than distant relatives of the one
she missed so hopelessly, she began to cry. A soft cry of plain disappointment.
“Please don't wake your brother and sisters,” I whispered to her.
On the attic floor next to the Christmas-tree stand, which still had a few green needles in its cup, there was a pair of black leather boots worn by her oldest sister, then the middle one, and now waiting for this daughter to step into them. Boxes everywhere. When we opened the one closest to us a photograph fell to the floor. I shined the flashlight on it, an old black-and-white picture of a wedding couple sitting in the back seat of their honeymoon car. My father had sent it to me at Christmas in a box of presents for the children. This year the gifts astonished us, so mismatched were they to the growing children in our midst: a golf club a foot too short for Jack, a dress that would have fit Erin two years earlier when my father last beheld her. My father's purchases spoke of the great distance and the long spaces between visits that separated me from him.
There was that troubling distance and the thievery of time. On the back of the wedding picture my father had written in the child's cursive that had marked his letters since a brain tumor began to steal his facultiesâNovember 1949, Peggy and me.
I watched my daughter take the photograph in her hand. It stopped her crying as she held it to the light.
Then she pressed it against my cheek. “It's Granddad,” I said. “That's your grandfather when he was a boy.”
A gust of wind raced along the roof above our heads.
There is always one child who drives a harder bargain than the others, whose mouth is forever filled with questions and who charges through the world past flustered grownups.
She wanted to know who the pretty girl in the wedding car was.
“My mommy,” I said.
She looked back at the picture as I described for her how this girl used to visit me when I was a little boy. I would awaken from my sleep to the sound of someone calling my name. It was always only the faint whisper of a voice calling me, and always calling me by my first and middle names, the way no one else ever addressed me, and when I opened my eyes there was always the same bright, smiling face with the shining gold ringlets of hair, gliding across my bedroom on top of a column of white light.
It was just an old picture in the attic, a lowly assertion of my daughter's history, and we might have gone downstairs then, leaving it behind, but Cara kept it in her hand. I forgot about it until later that week when it turned up on the table in the kitchen where we keep the unpaid bills, the schools' lunch menus, and the telephone directory. I was looking down at the photograph when my brother called me from his home in southern New Hampshire. He had just returned from Pennsylvania where he spent a day with my father and found him to be confused and going blind. “I wouldn't expect him to live more than another year,” he said.