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Making the Old New Again

Here’s to the bright New Year, and a fond farewell to the old; here’s to the things that are yet to come, and to the memories that we hold.  Unknown

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends; the old and the new.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was in the early nineties on trips east to visit my mother in Maine, while driving through the long stretches of rural Canada from Sault Ste Marie to Ottawa, that I would listen to cassette recordings of master storyteller and Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes as she shared excerpts and additional information from her best-selling book of myths and fairytales, Women Who Run With the Wolves.  I was mesmerized by these stories, drawn into them by Estes’ liltingly confident voice, empowered by her  feminist interpretations.  There are many stories and archetypes that have stayed with me: the girl with the red shoes and the sanity of a handcrafted life, the little match girl and the importance of taking care of the inner flame, the sealskin woman and the need for solitude, the dangers of Bluebeard energy and the urgency to pay attention.

But it wasn’t these stories, the ones that have been a guiding force for me over the years, that I woke up thinking about this morning.  Instead, it was a little snippet of a tale about Father Time and the New Born that popped into my mind.  Perhaps, it is the presence of young grandkids in my life this holiday season, or the knowing that a new year is upon us that brought me this gift of a story as dawn was breaking over the hills behind our kids’ home in Idaho.  It doesn’t matter the reason because here it is ready to offer me its wisdom.  I don’t remember all the details, am thinking that Father Time was very very old, and actually could have been a woman in Estes’ version.  And I’m envisioning now that he or she, this very very old being, was rocking and rocking and rocking in a creaky old chair on a porch, patiently rocking him or herself young again, until, finally, it was a newborn in that chair, ready to start anew.  And there was importance in the patient rocking motion — I do remember that — the not rushing, not hastily throwing out what is old, but, instead, allowing it to transform itself into something gloriously fresh and new.

My siblings and I are experiencing the power of this tale now as we find ourselves metaphorically rocking with the old, with the dusty and the faded and the forgotten.  In mid-December, in the midst of the holiday bustle, we claimed a weekend to unleash a motherlode of family history from taped-up boxes, boxes newly discovered after decades of being stuffed in an attic.  For hours, we huddled around my brother’s workshop table in coastal Maine with remnants of our mother’s family history spread out before us.  The treasures were many — photographs and newspaper clippings, journals and letters, many dating back to the late 1800’s.  There were record albums and watercolor paintings and first edition books.  Some things were discarded, thrown into the waste basket at the end of the workshop table or placed into the recycle bin to go to the transfer station, but many more ended up in piles in front of each of us.  My two older siblings now have a multitude of photographs of their birth father, our mother’s first husband who died of a heart attack when he was in his early thirties, when they were almost too young to remember him, photographs that none of us had seen before.  We all have photographs of our mother as baby, as young girl, as long-legged teenager and young woman, and photographs of her parents, their siblings, of ancestors in formal wear and photographs of them sprawled out at the seaside.  We each have letters and journals and newspaper clippings to sift through, to patiently rock into something relevant to us today, and we have paintings to bring from the dark of an attic into the light of our living room walls.

Unleashing the relevance, the fresh “newborn” in some of these treasures will take time, much patient rocking and reading, but, for others, the energy felt fresh and light immediately.  My sister and I found a booklet of photographs from a Christmas that we never knew had been recorded in this way.  I was three and she was eight, and in one photograph, we sit on the edge of a bed in our floral bathrobes, me clutching a toy baby carriage and she holding an open umbrella.  We are darling, and it was a darling moment for us to discover this booklet of photos almost sixty years later.  The sibling time together was filled with such moments, the excitement of a fresh discovery, the laughter of a family remembering.  I’m sure the ancestors were with us during this unleashing, delighted in our camaraderie.  And they were definitely with me when I took it upon myself to leave the workshop and perform a ritual in the coastal forest surrounding my brother’s home.  It happened many times during our unpacking of the boxes, the discovery of sweet handmade envelopes holding sprigs of baby fine hair, some bound neatly with tiny blue satin ribbon, envelopes labeled with the names of grandparents and great aunts and uncles and great grandparents, too.  These were lovingly preserved, and I couldn’t just throw them away, so I set them free.  Each time an envelope of hair was unpacked, I scampered through the snowy woods, scattering loose hair among the balsams, placing bound bundles atop the fairy moss and among the branches of the scraggly spruce trees.  The air felt moist and fresh and alive and I did too as I performed this ritual.

When the sifting and sorting and gathering into piles was over, I immediately drove to the “We Pack It For You” store and sent my stash of treasures home to Michigan.  And a day later, I too, flew back to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and dove full force into the bustle of the holidays, first, with one son, daughter-in-law and kids visiting us, and, now, in Idaho, at a ski resort with the other family.  It is the present, the here and now, that has captured my attention — sketching out characters from “Lord of the Rings” with our eldest grandson, running beside his toddler cousin as she skis down a bunny slope, propping the six month old on a hip, cradling her two month old cousin against my shoulder.  I’ve been present with grandkids and also have grieved the passing of a dear old friend.  I’ve welcomed the energy of youth, even as the year swells with all that has been.  And now as it tumbles forward into January, I plan to remain present, to experience the crisp freshness of new possibilities in the wintery air.  And my stash of treasures — I plan to sip a cup of hot tea as I rock it forward too, as I make what was once old and dusty and forgotten fresh and new and relevant again.

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Present with the four grandkids over the holidays: December 2017

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