“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.” ~ Beryl Markham, West with the Night
Marsha and I recently returned to my boyhood neighborhood to attend an art exhibit with our three-year-old grandson. We hadn’t been in the gallery long when Sam made it perfectly clear he was far more interested in being outside than inside, so he and I struck out in search of a park.
It was in this adventure I had a strange experience, one I was quite unprepared for. Queen Anne Hill, once so familiar to me, was strangely unfamiliar. It looked nothing like what I remembered. The untidiness, unfinishedness, peeling paint, weedy lawns, the street noise were nowhere to be found. Where was the ice cream man, the kids on bikes, the girls skipping rope, the newspaper boys, the sidewalk baseball? What happened to the grungy alleys, the old cars, the dogs on the prowl?
Queen Anne had changed, become an idyllic neighborhood, everything so perfectly perfect:
- Each home perfectly remodeled
- Each yard perfectly mowed
- Each garden intensely manicured
- Each street corner perfectly quiet
The hardscrabble neighborhood of my youth was gone, only a memory, a casualty of the technology revolution which has brought untold wealth to Queen Anne Hill.
Why did I I feel so violated, so outraged? Why was I so possessive of a bygone era?
I could almost hear myself chanting, ”Let’s make Queen Anne great again!” Yikes! Had I lost my mind? Clearly, I’d so sanctified my sixty year-old memory that I was being crucified — there oughta be a law against sanctifying memories!
My memory of Queen Anne Hill, to me, was Queen Anne Hill. The truth is, for a thousand years or more, the place now known as Queen Anne Hill has hosted many generations of families just like mine, all with cherished memories. No memory is more true or correct than the next.
We have all been just visitors to this place and sometime in the distant or not so distant future it will change in yet unforeseen ways. This lesson was taught to me by no less an authority than Chief Seattle himself, the Suquamish chief who inhabited this land before white people settled here. He wrote a letter to the Governor in response to the request by President Franklin Pierce to purchase the land we now know as Seattle.
This is how Chief Seattle answered:
“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory of the red man. The dead among the white man forget the country of their birthplace when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, the body heat of the pony and man, all belong to the same family.“
Thank you, Chief Seattle, for reminding me I’m part of a much bigger memory, and this beautiful earth that I call home belongs to the ages.
Just a thought…
Copyright © 2019 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.
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