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Dancing Behind the Scrim

jessie holman jones hospital, springfield tennessee, birthplace

Beginnings. It’s what my brain is telling my fingers to shape this week. I can think of no better way to start this series than with one of my all-time favorite pieces.  Thank you for visiting,  for reading, and for sharing my words.

I Will Remember You. Will You Remember Me?

scrim. It’s a theatrical device. Essentially a translucent piece of fabric, it’s usually employed to evoke specific feelings in the audience. Fog perhaps. A scene illumined by odd light and shadow. The dead of night.

Times past.

My memory works like a scrim. Things happened to me behind it. People move. They change. Scenery advances and contracts. The play is there, but the outlines are muted, fuzzy.

That’s the way I’ve always felt about the town of my birth. Few people would guess, but I am a Tennessean, hailing from a town outside of Nashville called Springfield. Right after I was born, my parents moved us to another town, giving me a few random experiences in the place of my spawning before we left it all behind the scrim when I was four years old. To me, it’s always been this mythic, misty place, separated from me by hundreds of miles and decades that wove a heavy veil over my memory.

My seminal memory from the place of my birth happened before I was two. I sit in a car with my Mom across the street from a boxy building on a hill with a filmy green lawn. Her voice is there, but I can’t see her when she tells me that building was the place I breathed for the first time, the intersection where I became me, started living in front of the scrim of whatever comes before we existed. Not seeing that structure for over forty years didn’t mean I forgot it. The edges were blurred, maybe, and the colors were off, but I still conjured what I saw with my baby eyes on the stage of my mind.

Yesterday, I viewed it again. The same sloping hill. The windows. The odd mish-mash of rectangles and squares. The site that gave me life, tarnished and uncovered, preening in front of the scrim of my recollection.

I sat in the car in the parking lot, afraid to get out and walk. Instead, I talked to some of you right here, used your words to give me the courage to see the place again. A concrete stair. The smell of asphalt. Sunlight glaring from glass. People buzzing around me as I stood underneath a portico and cried alone.

It was the same. And, it wasn’t. A trick of the scrim that highlights some bits while shielding others. I don’t know what I expected. The earth didn’t move; yet, it did. The air wasn’t different; yet, it was. Traffic still whizzed along the roadway; yet, it stood still. Seconds ticked by; yet, time stopped. I didn’t want to feel anything; yet, I felt everything. Sadness and euphoria. Pain and ecstasy. Laughter and tears. Anger and joy. Frustration and purpose.

I imagine if I could see my birth through the scrim of my consciousness, that’s what I’d feel. All of it. At once.

42 Comments Post a comment
  1. And the beginning is never being able to go home again. I wonder why we have a need to visit the place we were born or our first school? Maybe we are trying to recapture a part of our innocence that has long departed?

    Let memories shape us and move on and live in the present while trying to shape the future by living the Golden Rule.

    January 16, 2012
    • Lou, you had the same reaction the first time I posted this. I have to say this is one of the things I’ve done in life that I’m most happy I did. I can’t explain why. Now, when I think about where I was born, it isn’t some misty, mythic place. It’s real. I can picture it. And, that means something to me.

      Even if the building that was a hospital is now the county jail. 🙂

      January 16, 2012
      • The county jail now, huh? How appropriate! lolol

        J/K–

        I love you, A. This was beautifully written. I can see why it is your favorite. xo

        January 16, 2012
      • I know. Isn’t that funny? The man who told me that took great pleasure in rubbing it in, too. (His wife was born in the same hospital as me.)

        xo

        January 16, 2012
  2. If you could see your birth, most likely (like the rest of us), you’d apologize to your Mom – especially as you were 10 pounds. Okay, comedy aside….when I read this morning’s blog…bittersweet was the emotion that washed over me.

    I’ve never been back to my place of birth and up until you’ve brought it forward I hadn’t even thought of it. I do remember my mother telling me about the birth itself and how the doctor refused to give her pain medication (I think she has some residual resentment towards me), her pain, the fact that my Dad wasn’t there (not allowed in the birthing room – yes, I was born quite awhile ago), and her hatred of that red dirt in Oklahoma. I’ve always been kind of proud coming from Oklahoma, not sure why. Now….I wonder what I would feel if I went back there. Hmmmmm.

    January 16, 2012
    • I don’t know why this was such a spiritual experience for me, Lori. Perhaps seeing OK again would be something for you. Who knows? Part of it for me, I think, was having this very specific memory from a tiny age and wanting to connect that with something tangible in the present.

      My Dad wasn’t in the birthing room, either. My, how times have changed.

      January 16, 2012
  3. Interesting. I have never felt the need to track down where I was born. I have no idea what that hospital looks like. I have an attraction to figure out things from my childhood, yes. But my birth is of almost no interest to me. Am I missing out on something?

    If we could time travel, how many of us would travel back to see our own births? Where would it rank on the list of destinations? Or would you travel back to the time of your conception – not to witness the actual act (eww!!!) but no know the surrounding circumstance? I don’t think either events would break my top 10, nor probably even top 100, of historical events to visit.

    I would however like to revisit a few events from my childhood – to view them from an outside perspective, and to straighten some questions out in my mind. And maybe see who I ran into back then who re-entered life later on.

    January 16, 2012
    • I don’t know why this was of such interest to me, but it did inspire some of my more literary writing. 🙂

      I wouldn’t actually want to see my birth or conception, but I wish I had cognizance of what my thoughts were, if that makes sense.

      January 16, 2012
    • If I could time travel I’d go back to 1986 and tell myself “Buy Microsoft”, then come back and buy myself a new island.

      January 16, 2012
      • Heck, just go back about 10 years and tell yourself to buy Apple! I might have to do the way back thing and buy Coke though. That would make your really comfy.

        January 16, 2012
      • Would that we could all go back………

        January 16, 2012
  4. Next to the post about your mom’s love of guns, this one is also a standout for me. “Sadness and euphoria. Pain and ecstasy. Laughter and tears. Anger and joy. Frustration and purpose.” It’s interesting to think about what we experience when we emerge into this “wide wide world.” (Quoting the Pokey Little Puppy here).

    January 16, 2012
    • If I experienced any of those things then……..I will never know. But, it’s what I felt that day.

      January 16, 2012
  5. This is such a powerful post that speaks to me. I love the power of the scrim to distort reality, and our memories work in exactly the same way.

    January 16, 2012
    • I don’t often come up with good literary metaphors, Lisa, but this is one I’m proud of. That image from childhood always looked like it was behind a scrim. I’m glad I can see it clearly now.

      January 16, 2012
  6. Again with the memories, Andra!! As with Carnell, however, I have never given thought to finding the hospital where I was born, and a bit of research this morning reveals that even should I choose to do so, it is now too late: http://blogs.wsj.com/health/2008/10/16/a-chicago-hospital-closes-starved-for-capital-and-buyerless/ It was Grant Hospital at the time of my birth.

    My earliest memories of Chicago are tied to the small, black and white, hexagonal tiles on the bathroom floor of my grandparents’ apartment (Mom told me it was ’cause I met them, up close and personal, when I took a header from the porcelain throne during my potty-training days :)); and, of portions of my great-grandparents home and yard in Fort Wayne. I’m sure that trying to go back to that apartment on Bryn Mawr (even if I had an exact address) would elicit some of the sadness you write of, simply because it appears on the map that the neighborhood has been nearly swallowed by the junctures of several major highways. Probably no longer a pretty or safe neighborhood. 😦

    No, if I were to seek out the places that evoke the most sweet nostalgia, one at the top of the list would be the little caretaker’s cabin where we lived (and worked) when my youngest son was in high school: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2487913120804&set=a.1385426599330.2050172.1341961177&type=3&theater Sadly, the club razed the cabin, shortly after we ended our tenure, and brought in a small, modern, doublewide for the new caretaker residence — not at all the same ambiance — but the memories are still strong and sweet.

    January 16, 2012
    • What gorgeous memories, Karen. Even falling off the toilet. 🙂 It cemented something powerful in your brain.

      I have a similar memory to your cabin. My grandmother lived in a small house in KY, and I spent a portion of every summer there growing up. About a year before she died, the house burned to the ground. I’ve never been back there to see the site without the house, and I don’t think I will ever go. I want to remember that house as a ghost on the side of the road, my Mamaw still living there.

      January 16, 2012
      • There are some things that are best kept as sweet and gentle memories.

        January 16, 2012
      • Yes. Definitely.

        January 16, 2012
  7. What a beautifully written post! It moved me to tears actually. My parents still live in the same house I grew up in. I love going back because everything is the same, even a lot of the neighbours who watched me grow up still live on that street.

    Last spring, my mom told me that she and my dad are probably going to sell my beloved home and move into a condo. My dad is 82 and it’s hard to keep up with shovelling snow, etc.

    I must admit, I am sad. That evening I took a walk through my old neighbourhood: past my elementary school, through the park, past the place the book mobile parked every Friday, around familiar twists and turns. I cried the whole way.

    January 16, 2012
    • Oh my. I can totally relate to this one. Is there any way you and other family members can buy it? Or, would you even want to do that?

      I spent much of my growing up years in the same house, and my parents still live there. I know it will be a sad day for me when they say they are selling it.

      January 16, 2012
  8. Interesting post, Andra . . . a yearning to see what can no longer be seen.

    The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav’n of Hell, or a Hell of Heav’n. ~ John Milton

    January 16, 2012
    • I don’t know why this was such a powerful experience for me, Nancy. It gave me a weird kind of peace at the end of it.

      January 16, 2012
  9. Such an excellent and heartfelt post, Andra! My earliest memory is from approximately the same age as yours. I wrote a poem about it, because even though it is remembered through a scrim, it is nevertheless vivid. I remember some of the details perfectly (in my mind, at least). I cannot revisit this one,except in my mind, for reasons you can see, should you choose to:

    http://paulatohlinecalhoun1951.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/childhood/

    Also – I named you as one of my favorite “Versatile Bloggers. See today’s post:

    http://paulatohlinecalhoun1951.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/thank-you-one-and-all/

    January 16, 2012
    • Paula, your post is exquisite. I am always, ALWAYS in awe of words strung together as poetry. I do not have the nerve to try to write such beauty.

      I have similar memories ignited by my Dad and a trip to Europe. I am doing a series on that in the coming weeks. Writing about my Dad always wears me out emotionally, so I have to space them far enough apart to recover in between. 🙂

      Thank you for the Versatile Blogger award. Jessie Powell gave me the Sunshine Award today, too. http://jesterqueen.com/2012/01/16/dont-steal-my-sunshine-ill-share-it/ So, I am busy trying to contain my ballooning ego. 🙂 Seriously, several people have given me Versatile Blogger in the past, and I must write the post it requires. I’ve always felt sort of weird about it, because I write because I can’t help it. I’m honored anyone thinks I can write or reads anything I have to say in the first place. Blogging has led to me such a strong, amazing group of men and women, all people I consider friends. I’m glad I ‘met’ you, Paula.

      January 16, 2012
  10. When my sister was born, my parents had to smuggle me into the hospital to see her and my Mom, since kids weren’t allowed on the maternity ward at that time. (Except the newborns). I remember trotting along after Dad and seeing my sister in the nursery behind the glass and trying to figure out if I had ever been in there (of course I had) and which room my Mom was in when I was born (I still have no idea).

    January 16, 2012
    • How much younger is your sister? It is cool that you connected that place to where you ‘came from’, too. Something so illicit had to be burned into the young brain. 🙂

      January 16, 2012
  11. I can understand your feelings perfectly well, Andra… I experience the same if I visit a place where I went on holiday when I was little – I can go back again and again, yet still have the same feelings. To me, it’s like a warm, comfortable feeling, yet sad at the same time as I feel as though I’m there and yet not there at the same time. Sorry, I thought I knew how to describe the feeling, but my words don’t seem to reach the level. But I can understand your feelings!

    January 16, 2012
    • Tom, I totally get it. You described that feeling perfectly. It’s a collection of things that make us who we are, and on some level, that’s where we’re trying to connect, I think.

      January 16, 2012
  12. This was a lovely post, and I can feel the emotion it stirred in you.

    I’ve never been back to the place of my birth, though it’s on my bucket list. Beaufort, South Carolina. It intrigues me, and I’d be lying if i said there is no emotion connected to it.

    But, I moved around a fair bit growing up. And the people who are supposed to become fixtures in one’s life – they came and went, too. I guess I don’t have much of that nostalgic feeling that a lot of people have about their growing years, though I can appreciate how those years formed me.

    January 16, 2012
    • If you ever want to drive down for a visit, I’m a little over an hour away from Beaufort. It’s one of my favorite places to go for a quick overnight getaway. The old part of it is just lovely. I could wander for hours and hours (and have done, numerous times.) Looking at it can stir emotions in anyone, born there or no.

      January 16, 2012
  13. I spend an inordinate amount of time worried about real and perceived dangers in this world.

    Its nice to have folks like you distract me from that.

    January 16, 2012
  14. There is a confirmation in these acts. I did not dream this. This place is real. At least, that’s the sense I’ve had in visiting firsts.

    January 16, 2012
    • It was so weird how much I remembered, how vivid the picture in my little mind had been. You’re right. I had to see it to underscore the reality.

      January 16, 2012
  15. I live in the same city where I was born and went to school…I still drive past the homes I lived in as a child, walk on the grounds of my elementary school and take a yoga class across the street from my high school. I occasionally drive by the homes my grandparents (and even a great-grandparent) lived in. It’s a very odd sensation at times to be both familiar and then at the same time literally recalling feelings and pictures decades-old. I wonder sometimes how our minds categorize the emotional responses to these memories. I was touched by your experience, and amazed that you can remember being two! Debra

    January 16, 2012
    • That must be a blessing and a curse, Debra. I can still visit the town where I grew up and have odd sensations at the most random moments. To be able to do that all the time would be something, and to be in such proximity to family….wow. I retract the beginning. It has to be a gift. One hundred percent.

      January 17, 2012
  16. Very beautifully written Andra. 🙂 You reminded me of that fact that I want to visit Ashofenburg Germany where my sister and I were adopted at the ages of 1 and 2. I would like to see if the orphanage even exists today or see where it used to stand. I would like to visit the neighborhood it is or was in. I have never had the burning desire to find my birth mother. My sister, on the other hand has that desire. What would I say to her? How would I feel? Would I feel regret or would I be angry or sad? I guess that is why I leave that alone.

    January 17, 2012

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