Finding Memory Lane

There are days when a certain quality of the light takes me right back to the village and childhood.  I can’t figure out why today is one of those days,w hen you consider it’s snowing and it rarely snows in the place I grew up in.

However, it is often overcast, sharing that with the British isles.  It’s rarely overcast in Colorado (out of the year we only get something like 20 days without sun, which, yes, is likely to happen only when you have out of state visitors.)

And today there’s that feeling of sunlight filtered through grey that takes me right back to the village in November, with water forming a film of ice on ponds or on your bedside water glass, and a hint of wood smoke in the air, from people firing up their wood stoves.

On days like this it seems to me I’m divided, living two lives at once.  Somewhere, on the other leg of the pants of time, there’s a me that never left Portugal and who grew older in the village, not even noticing how different it is now, because she saw it change gradually.

Of course, beyond that it’s hard to figure it out.  Is she a teacher or a translator?  could be either, depending on whether she let herself take the easy path or the hard.  Did she ever marry?  Does she have kids?

I don’t know.  I know I took the really hard path, or as we call it the path of high improbability, because for those who know me, and who know how much I despise uncertainty and a state of flux, the idea that one day I just said “yes” to the crazy American on the phone asking me to marry him is almost laughable.  The idea I left behind my credentials, my extended family and all my friends to plunge into the unknown and forge a new life in an imperfectly understood land, in a language not my own, is frankly nothing short of ludicrous.

And yet I did it.  I jumped, because I knew in my heart it was the right thing, and that I couldn’t do anything else.

And it was, you know, I don’t regret that other life that never happened.  I don’t regret a career that was mine for the taking, or whoever I might have married, or whatever kids I might have had.

I love my husband very much, and I love the kids we had together, and though my career makes me tear my hair out, it is what I was born to do, possibly including this blog.

It is only on certain days like this, when the light is just right, that I feel like I could reach over and touch that other life and savor the few things I do regret: the continued embrace of my extended family; seeing my kids grow up around my dad; the parties and celebrations I missed through the years; and visiting my grandmother’s grave and leaving flowers.

I wouldn’t trade my life for that of hypothetical me.  But I’m aware she’s the likely one and I’m the improbable one.

And for a moment, on these foggy mornings I salute her across the mist and the cold and say “go in peace.  I kept the better part. In that crucial moment, I acted unlike myself and jumped without looking.  And I reaped an amazing reward.”

71 responses to “Finding Memory Lane

  1. You sound like a personal, kinder version of The Man in the High Castle.

  2. nice!

  3. I suspect she wouldn’t trade her life for yours, either.

    It seems to be the nature of some people to make their omelets with the eggs they have, rather than the eggs they wish they had, while other people are too busy cursing the eggs they have to eat, let alone make, an omelet.

    • P’rhaps not. Indeed, some of us take our eggs rather too seriously, and wouldn’t know what to do with any other… or say they wouldn’t. And if they end up lightly scrambled, when all along we were planning for sunny-side-up, why, we’ve still got the eggs, just presented differently.

      Now those of us who planned on chicken eggs and got ostrich… well, we call ourselves Odds for a reason! It’s just that the reason sometimes escapes us, more because we’re distractable than any skill at hiding on the part of the reason.

    • And then for those of us with food allergies, there are eggbeaters, which pour out of the carton; no breaking required.

    • I admit that I whine about my eggs far too much.

      But I wouldn’t trade most of the ones I’ve got, not for the big decisions (nor would I willingly let go of some of the luck/blessing ones), and yet I am pretty sure that if I had done certain things differently in the past I would be just as unwilling to change and lose that hypothetical what-is.

      • It’s absolutely appropriate to whine about your eggs when the kid finds a hidden nest and doesn’t tell you so you find out when you open a rotten egg, or when the kid missed some last night and brought them in frozen and cracked this morning.

        Are any of you close enough to use a dozen? Son’s getting a lot, and I’ll let him sell the nice ones.

  4. Reality Observer

    I’ve had that feeling too (which only proves humanity).

    It diminished greatly, though, after the birth of my first daughter, and even more as the other two came, and grew up. Yes, there probably would have been children along most of those other paths, the ones I turned away from – but they wouldn’t have been these children.

  5. But then we wouldn’t have our Sarah in our lives, and they would be the lesser for it.
    Funny thing about the reality event horizon. The likelihood of the most improbable series of events changes from bloody unlikely to certainty in the blink of an eye.
    Or as someone, probably Willy the Shake, once remarked, “the moving finger of time writes and having writ moves on,” and what’s done is done for all of time.

  6. What a beautiful piece. It says something of one’s earned wisdom to imagine that life that might have been and bid it to “Go in peace.”

  7. There are times when I wish I’d taken the other path but, knowing that my choices were between the difficult one and the even harder one, I’m not sure I could say what would be different aside from the faces.

  8. c4c

  9. Yes – I have jumped at opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise… Glad you did too.

  10. Laura Montgomery

    It’s funny how the light can do that to you. Thanks for sharing this one.

    • I think the ‘hint of wood smoke’ also factors in. Smell is much more primal than the other senses. In this case, the light is right; it feels right in the sense the skin is tingling in the crisp winter air; then *bingo* the faint smell of wood smoke crystallizes the moment.

      Considering where Sarah lives, it is probably pot smoke, I thought Coloradans to earth-friendly to burn wood.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Colorado generally bans outside fires when there’s a danger of such fires getting out of control. (Serious answer to a humorous statement. [Smile])

      • Laura Montgomery

        Agree absolutely on the powers of smells.

        When the Tidal Basin runs a little ripe and the air is sticky in summer I’m teleported back to Bangkok.

      • The smell of cold and damp, with a touch of diesel exhaust, takes me to Vienna. The hot, dry, cinnamon wind of late summer is waiting for passengers at a small airport out in the middle of short-grass pastures under a hard, clear blue sky.

        “Smells are better than sound or sight/ For making your heartstrings crack.
        “They start that awful voice of nights/ That whispers, ‘Old man, come back’.”
        R. Kipling “Lichtenberg”

        • Laura Montgomery

          Diesel is especially evocative.

          • Visiting Philadelphia once upon a time, $HOUSEMATE took me downtown for something. It was weird, as it was Summer and the conditions were oddly evocative for me. Crowd, noise of diesel engines, whiff of diesel exhaust, heat, smell of deep fried food – it tripped my ‘County Fair’ memory pretty hard.

            Another peculiar aroma is that of gasoline exhaust on a cold Winter day. Might be more effective with 2-cycle engines, I’m not sure. But it takes me back to times of not much care and someone nearby with a snowmobile.

      • nah. almost every house has a wood stove. This is not boulder.

        • I grew up with wood stove heat and I expect to smell wood smoke when it gets chilly. $HOUSEMATE is from Houston and does not – so the first time it got chilly up here and folks started using the wood stoves or fireplaces, I heard, “Smells like a housefire.”

  11. Sarah, America is richer for your crazy decision.

  12. c4c

  13. Time of year and age perhaps. I had a sense of it when my father and I drove to the back of the old farm. Seeing the old field overgrown in trees hit hard, and I couldn’t help but think of the might-have-been. Rationally I know that disaster lay down that road, that it long ago became impossible to break even, much less turn a profit, with certain equipment and below a certain acreage.Rationally I know there was a reason we rented land in addition to the core farm. Rationally i know we could have cleaned up right up to the creek bottoms, converting that into farmland, and it still wouldn’t have been enough.

    Emotions are seldom rational, though. It still hit hard, along with the regret at not having taken that path and pursuing farming. It didn’t help as my father matter-of-factly discussed the inevitable, and I had this sense of having let them down by not farming. It’s not rational, and when I mentioned some of this feeling to my father, he essentially told me as much. Still felt it, though.

  14. c4c

    And don’t we all live improbable lives?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Life itself (ignoring the possibility of the Creator) may be improbable. [Smile]

    • Aye. There is a book of alternative history stories of WWII (I’ve forgotten the title, but last I knew Mad Mike had a copy on his bookshelf somewhere) and the point is made in the forward or epilogue or some such not-the-core-stories text that perhaps we live in the world with the strangest history of all, considering the Manhattan Project and results thereof.

  15. Funny isn’t it, these huge leaps we sometimes make with so little conscious thought.

    I remember a day in an office on the thirtieth floor of an office building in San Francisco. My boss offering me a job in Houston. I was 25, had never been to Texas. I said I’d think about it, walked to the door, turned around. “I’ll go.”

    Met this Tom Uphoff fellow the first day I was here.

  16. Robert Frost said it better than I can:
    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

  17. Blink blink. That was beautiful. And I don’t say that often.

  18. It sounds like you felt the pull of Tir na nOg, tha wee crypto-Celt that you are. The world beside this one, entered by the unwary in the mists.

    I have no other world to see, but I did think of Faryre once in the hills of Oakland, with mist in the tall pine trees and me having just left a most curious interview at the headquarters of Locus magazine. I was not entirely sure I should not turn my coat inside out, or fill my pockets with salt to return to the mortal world again 🙂

  19. Reminds me of something written several years ago by the great blogger Neptunus Lex:

    “I’ve often wished that you could split at each important choice in life. Go both ways, each time a fork in the road came up. Compare notes at the end, those of us that made it to the clearing at the end of the path. Tell it all over a tumbler of smokey, single malt.”

    (Neptunus Lex was the nom de blog of retired US Navy captain Carroll LeFon. He was killed in a combat training accident in 2012 while flying as an ‘adversary’ pilot.)

  20. Sarah, you have much to be thankful for, and we have you to be thankful for, plus all the carp you can be persuaded to fling.

  21. Eminem, Lose Yourself
    If you had
    One shot
    Or one opportunity
    To seize everything you ever wanted
    In one moment
    Would you capture it
    Or just let it slip?

  22. “It’s rarely overcast in Colorado (out of the year we only get something like 20 days without sun, which, yes, is likely to happen only when you have out of state visitors.)”

    When I was growing up, the joke was that it only snowed in Colorado on days (or nights) when the Broncos had a nationally televised game, allowing us to keep the secret of our wonderful, nearly-constant sunshine to ourselves.

  23. Like a million little doorways
    All the choices we made
    All the stages we passed through
    All the roles we played

    For so many different directions
    Our separate paths might have turned
    With every door that we opened
    Every bridge that we burned

    Somehow we find each other
    Through all that masquerade
    Somehow we found each other
    Somehow we have stayed in a state of grace

    I don’t believe in destiny
    Or the guiding hand of fate
    I don’t believe in forever
    Or love as a mystical state

    I don’t believe in the stars or the planets
    Or Angels watching from above
    But I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
    We can find someone to love and make it last, and make it last

    (Rush, “Ghost Of A Chance”)

  24. Ms. Hoyt, you were born American, you just had to get over here. Glad you made it.

  25. Nothing will make you appreciate how rare overcast days in Colorado are like driving 5 days around the rest of the country and not seeing the sun once until the very last day, right as you hit the 2/3rds point through Kansas.