Where Does The Past Begin?

Great authors turn words of phrase into streams of consciousness. In Amy Tan’s memoir “Where The Past Begins,” she notes the significance of bringing/sending flowers to funerals. I used to wonder why flowers appeared surrounding and draped on caskets. Wasn’t this, I pondered, a cold reminder of life and beauty? A distraction for the living; from cold dead truth?

But Amy is right: Flowers play an important and symbolic role in funerals because Life, like cut flowers, are both fleeting. That symbolism resonates as truth.

I liken the backgrounds of old familiar snapshots to be like cut flowers surrounding the living: transient. Someone’s eyes once peered through a long-ago camera lens, perhaps giving little significance in-the-moment; to background ephemera because the lens had one job: freeze the subject of the moment in time. It’s through a new lens of time having passed, that I see the camera records far more than the subject.

I see a decades old snapshot these days and find myself scanning the background. I ask: What’s that box on the counter? Oh I recall when that brand came in a box that color. What’s that on the end table? Oh- my old coffee cup. The favorite. The one that broke…And etc.

Perhaps this is why I see much more lasting meaning in candid shots. Sure, there is something to be said for “professional” or posed pictures, mega-watt smiles flashing, simple color rich backgrounds chosen from photo studios; subjects full center. But I look for details in candid snapshots and am intrigued with questions sometimes never to be answered; and wonder and remembrance.

Here are some examples.


There is my mother’s bra on the clothesline. The old grill, from which my father emptied hot coals onto the gravel. My dog Pistol rolled in them and his back caught fire. There’s the cellar door behind the grill, that I write about in my book with the stairs like irregular tombstones that led down into a square of pungent dark earth, our cellar door to the right, and the neighbor’s to the left at the bottom of the stairs. The house is torn down now. There is a cul-de-sac of pavement here where the yard was, where the house was, where I stand with my mother in a red and white striped bathing suit, which I still have-the elastic rotten.

Here is another photo, this one is my mother as a little kid; posing with three dogs. I date this photo as having been taken in the 1940s. A relative I have never met; posted this picture on Facebook and tagged me in it. Looking closer at the details around the main subject, I wondered at whose handwriting this was on the photo and then I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The white dog!


My mother (now passed away) did not tell me many stories from her childhood, especially not sad ones, so one memory of her doing this, stands out. My mother lived in a big white house her father built, situated at the end of a dirt road (still unpaved to this day). Across the road was a little pasture, accessible by ducking under a barbed wire fence. Wild berries grew in abundance there and my mother liked to pick them. Her father enjoyed them simply- in a bowl with milk or cream. “I had a new white puppy,” I remember her telling me, her eyes suddenly wet in response to her long-ago memory.

The dirt road was overhung on either side with bramble and low hanging trees. My mother, a young child, stood across the road and called for her little white puppy to join her.

She never saw the hay truck coming. It struck and killed the puppy. “I wish I’d never called it to me,” she said to me, the grief surprisingly deep considering she was at least in her 50s when she told me this story. And now, an unbelievable 70 years after this photo was taken, I have a eureka moment: this random posting from a distant relative confirms in shades of grey, the sad story of the white dog’s short life…

Here is a picture that tells many stories, most of them encoded. My daughter is walking away from my little prom photo shoot here, thus the garbage pails in the background. Her expression says, “What’s all the hubbub?”


She did the “pose for the camera” bit, just for me, and then she walked off. It’s this photo that really captures the day. The gown was her favorite color. My daughter really wanted to wear a tuxedo, but I was selfish. She’d worn suits and male clothing to many other functions and when she had prom, I’d begged, “A dress just once!?” It was me who pushed for us to shop together and find that dress. I will always look at the pictures from that prom, and I will see my total cluelessness. How long did she feel male? When the picture was taken, she had ‘come out’ about being gay, but it wasn’t until years afterward that the transgender changes became real. Now I have a son. Who seems to be 100 times happier. I’m so glad for that.


Life itself is an elaborate Goldberg Machine; like the old game MouseTrap.  A

?deliberately? complex state of affairs in which a series of devices that perform simple tasks are linked together to produce a domino effect in which activating one device triggers the next device in the sequence. Tempis Fugit! (time is wasting)

In a world where PROPAGANDA is bandied about to dehumanize select aspects of the populace, like poison laced chickenfeed to indiscriminating cluckers, it is more important than ever to EMBRACE diversity. Surely without grand diversity, the world itself would not exist.


This is a strange photo because aspects are fuzzy; I had to pause the TV show to take this picture with my Iphone. Note the way the man in the foreground has a “hand-in-movement” all blurry. I am in purple, you can barely see me and that’s because I was part of the background, seen for no more than a second on this episode of Flea Market Flip.

One last photo:


That’s me circa 1966 in the grey house I posted earlier. The blue car I remember well. I had it in my possession until I was about 16 years old, when Howie took an ax to it. I’ll never know why he did things like that in sudden outbursts (not of rage) of energy. I’m surprised because this looks like a real tree. The Christmas trees of my recollection in that house were always fake. I remember one in particular had melted branches all over the backside because it was placed too close to a vent or something. I spy a long forgotten doll under the tree and a toy telephone. I find myself wondering, what is the box under the TV stand with the regal font across it?

But back to Amy. Amy Tan’s book was a good read. Especially for a wanna be gonna be fiction writer like me. 🙂

She mentions having several music playlists (no lyrics, just instrumentals) with several names: dramatic, sad, violent, suspenseful, love, angry, etc.


She wrote about her mindthink, her methods when she writes fiction. And in it she notes that she listens to the playlist that corresponds to the type of scene she’s writing, so the mood can move her writing.

I found this fascinating because writing fiction, to me, seems just scary enough, just challenging enough, for me to attempt it and I plan to do so in the future.

I had a fictional story published once, by Robert Bixby (now deceased) of March Street Press, and except for my lone copy on my claim-to-fame shelf, (and others, perhaps, somewhere in hard copy) my fictional story is lost to the archives. I had written about a mute autistic girl, modeled after Rose Red, who was lost in the woods. Perhaps I’ll revisit the story one day…

Transience is real. No time like the present as one says. There are fleeting moments to me, when a pattern in a carpet seems like sacred geometry; or the bare mosaic of tree canopy branches silhouetted in the sky, is a chapel. Memories of the girl who murmured her whispered words into a rotary toy telephone, “Hello?” And Amy Tan’s certainty that life and cut flowers are transient things.

Tempis fugit!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s