Stitching Memory. (Voetstoets)
I have decided to take a break. Not exactly a holiday, but a change of wind, tacking to the side. Ultimately all is relevant to everything else. Voetstoets in Afrikaans means ‘as found…warts and all’. It was legally used to clarify that a house buyer took it ‘as found’. IE No come back or complaints or changing your mind. No whinging.
Although my book ‘Involution…’ is about memory, it gives it a seemingly ‘worthy’ importance (Books have a habit of looking ponderous or self-important) and I want to make it simple. Memory for each of us is pretty simple, often fragmentary and from fragments we stitch together some significance. The more I look into what people write, the more obvious it becomes that they are doing just that. Their sleuthing detectives wander the streets they recall, their romantic couples lean over bridges whose views once detained them with duller disappointing men, their crimes happen in the Estate they never pass without a shiver. Their revenge is sweet when it draws in their torturer of any stripe. Writers have only memory on which to draw, even if they call it imagination. It is woven from the familiar.
I confess Involution, outwardly a scientific thesis, takes all its images from what I chance encountered and somehow stored in haphazard piles until they leapt out as apt, pithy or stuck up two fingers to challenge all misgivings. I know where all of them come from—the patchwork of my life, haphazard, unplanned, but re-ordered somehow meaningfully creative.
So I have decided to share a real patchwork. The idea of a ‘family quilt’ was inspired by an envy of that fabulous quilt that wrapped the girl led through an orange grove by a blackbird ( in How to Make an American Quilt) My hopes of leaving such a legacy to the few that might recall that I existed ( my children- I was less ambitious then…) began my own chronology through memory. I set to with a will and kept going for two winters. At the moment a few panels await joining, and the construction of a few more and a border. Since it may never be finished I thought my blog could exhibit and explain (and invite a few similar associations or opinions).
It will force me to persist with it. I often think those Victorian samplers, with their delicate stitchery convey something apart from what they portray; privation of children kept indoors, imbued with the modest expectations of nothing but more of the same through marital life. Cedar chests to chase away moth, boudoirs of bare boards, lace edged dowries increased for each year of dying hope, all convey a disciplined emotional containment, paid for in pricked fingers and failing eyes. (To quote e e cummings in a recent blog… a pile climbing up as hope away down…)
Mine, I regret, is not that. Rather a spontaneous image just to capture some essence of personality, recalled, for the most part with affection ( and frustration when it gets to my children! As you will see if you visit again…)
I have written about my grandparents in previous blogs- Marna, my ‘galleon grandmother’ and my somewhat saintly diligent grandfather, Heli. In this panel they are captured on an average day, my grandmother out of doors whenever possible engaged in the supervision of planting; my grandfather nailed to his desk with minions forever waiting for missives. The barometer of their lives divides two people, entirely different emotionally and intellectually.
She loved gardening (which in the barren landscapes they occupied posed a challenge) he loved languages and the written word. His letters to Whitehall couched in diplomat’ese’ expressing ‘concern’ for ludicrous instructions on the teaching of Latin to Zulus, tendering gentle urgings of English instead. His reports would never express his fury at the vulgarity and disrespect shown to African teachers by racist visitors like Harold Nicolson, but be sealed with wax into which his ring would be pressed before dispatch. Spread-eagled on his study floor I would read the sighs and clenched teeth, while I made brass rubbings of coins or Meccano structures from a book of plans. Nothing pleased me more than the use of a spanner, and undoubtedly often in his works. Continue reading “Stitching Memory- Voetstoets”