“Memories, memories, dreams of love so true,” goes the old popular song. If our dreams of love don’t come true, we rarely sing about it. Nothing is ever quite the same as it is when we remember it.
My grandmother had a special place in her heart for Robert Frost, even though he was a Yankee. I asked her once about Frost’s line “The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows,” and she said: If I mowed the lawn, the satisfaction of my looking out on a neatly mowed lawn was my greatest pay for having caused it to be that way. I nevertheless took the pittance I got for mowing lawns and bought some little “doodad” that pleased me more than looking at the lawn.
Later on, as a student in a New England university, I heard a Down-Easter professor state that “pride in one’s workmanship” was one of the early American virtues that allowed us Americans to create strong character by doing worthwhile things. A writer’s enjoyment in “pride of authorship” is surely a kindred sensation.
In a poem titled “A Psalm of Life,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Let us, then, be up and doing,” which is surely a postmark to Puritan Cotton Mather’s strong advocacy of work as the producer of virtue. Mather’s sayings caused much ill at ease among many New Englanders who simply wanted to sit around and enjoy themselves. “Idleness” may well be “the root of all evil” as often said, but it is in idleness that the human soul finds many of its profoundest pleasures. In America, idleness may have led to a sense of guilt among New Englanders, however it certainly did not produce that result in people of the South!
Long before the days of television, I was often sent for a week or two down to the little town of Waynesboro, Ga., where I sat many an evening with a passel of relatives in rocking chairs on someone’s front porch. The conversation was usually confined to things of small consequence about local inhabitants, and continued until bedtime. Southerners of that time resorted often to exaggeration. When someone said something hyperbolic like, “I like to died,” nobody ran for the smelling salts or sought a place to lay someone down. My elderly “aunts and uncles” were sometimes my older cousins whose titles were used by us children purely as an expression of respect.
Remembrance of the past has been a mainstay of both talkers and writers. Marcel Proust is remembered as author of “Remembrance of Things Past.” Proust reminds us that most of our memorable literature resided for a good while in someone’s memories. Because Proust was more preoccupied by human relations than by practical concerns, he often felt the need to provide long and subtle explanations for the most ordinary of actions, such as inviting someone to dinner. Some of his letters are full of humor, while others express deep distress. In them he appears to us as he did to his contemporaries: sensitive and intelligent, often charming, sometimes exasperating: i.e. Proust was a regular fellow, after all!
Actions may speak louder than words, but it’s easier to talk about big heavy dumbbells than to pick them up. My b.w. reminds me that our president can talk a lot easier than he can make a decision—but, alas!— it is his talk that put him in the Oval Office where he sits and earns his big presidential pay. When Hillary Clinton recently said on TV re: Benghazi, “What difference does it make?” I quipped to b.w., “She’ll regret she ever said that.” Hillary has been on a book tour making a pile of lucre for the past few weeks, talking a lot, and is truly hopeful—I believe— that people will all forget what she said in that thoughtless moment.
As humans have the ability to speak, it’s important to know when to talk and when to shut up!