Tuesday, April 08, 2014

An Iris Offers its Beauty and Fragrance

I always think of the man who planted these blue irises beside the Little Union Canal. He's dead now and I never knew him, but I have been told that he cared for his roses in his front yard (now ours) almost every day. I went looking for one of my iris photographs because I want to give you tonight the long passage that ends Ted Kooser's short history of his mother's family. He thought about this book for fifty years and finally, during his mother's final illness, he finished it in time for her to read. It is a short book, only 60 pages of small size. Here is the ending.

     An April morning, nearly fifty years later. My mother has recently died, at age eighty-nine, the last living link to the stories of her family. She has left me to reckon with a rapidly fading past that will, from the day of her death forward, be as Edwin Muir described it, little more than a confusion of lights on a ground of darkness.
     This is the rainy season, when the Turkey River bears close watching. In Osterdock an old man in a cap with earflaps leans over the bridge rail to observe the water inching up the supporting columns. He has a red face and a drop of clear moisture at the end of his nose. It's a new bridge, made of concrete, wide and solid. The former bridge was narrow, riveted together out of steel, and it shuddered ominously whenever a floating tree trunk bumped a support. Nearby is the broken and overgrown foundation of the general merchandise store where we once bought ice cream cones, where my grandmother and her sister, Laura waited outside in the shade of a tree. The old man tells me he cannot remember my mother, Vera Moser, or her brother, Elvy, or her parents, John and Liz, but he says with a smile that the hills along the Turkey River are full of Mosers and Morarends.
     Four hundred miles from this new bridge that reaches not merely over a flooded river but pushes forward out of the past, the irises in my garden will soon bloom. Their petals are tightly furled, spun into tight little cones of rich color, yellow and blue. Within a day or two they will be open, lush and loose, spilling their fragrance, old irises from these green hills, their gnarled roots borne from house to house, from garden to garden, down through time. An iris is forever young because it had no stories to sadden it, to weigh it down.
     Before me I see the violet ones, the blue ones, the yellow, the brown, and the silky white ones marked with blue, the salmon-colored ones, the coral and pink. They began their journey long before I was born, and a hundred years ago, my grandmother's mother, Dorothea Morarend, seated on her front stoop just a mile from where the old man and I look down upon the river, waited for them with the same anticipation that I feel today. And yet the irises are oblivious of me and my family, are indifferent as the whitewashed boulders along that long ago driveway, stones that turned their back to my Uncle Elvy as he dragged his sack of fish into the yard at twilight. An iris offers its beauty and fragrance as if nothing has changed, as if no one were gone.

From Lights on a Ground of Darkness; an evocation of a place and time by Ted Kooser,
University of Nebraska Press, 2005, pages 58-60.

And here I am going to make a suggestion, which is made as much to myself as to my prized blog readers: Write down bits of your family history gradually. Don't wait until you don't have time to polish the words and make it as clear and evocative as possible. I am thinking that if you were to keep these words, paragraphs, pages, on a blog (you could make it a private one, if you wanted to) then you will have them available even if something happens to the written manuscript. I'm hoping the Internet is a safe place to store them--it might just be safer than anywhere else. My sister-in-law is preparing my mother's memoirs so that we can make them available this way. I am sure my mother will be pleased.

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