Monday, May 29, 2006

Geography and Genealogy

Arab history as Yemenis know it is “history made not by the mind but by the heart, a history in which genealogy and geography…are all potent and alive in allusions and references contained in the language itself.” in a review by Jason Goodwin of Yemen, The Unknown Arabia.

This is also true of my personal history. I just received an e-mail from my brother. A year ago he bought a house. The e-mail says, “We have our very own ladyslipper in our yard!!!!...All I have to find is a cardinal flower.” The allusions are “potent and alive” for me. They refer to our walks in the woods with our aunt and to my brother’s special relationship with her (“my bum” she called him). The woods are vivid in my memory, even though they have long since been turned into house lots. Aunt Tempie had wild cardinal flowers in her yard, and when Robin bought his first house, thirty years ago, he transplanted one from her garden to his. It was his talisman. He left that house to live in parsonages, and now, retired, he has his own once again. Genealogy, geography. Once when my family and my father were taking a walk in the woods, he told them about petrified wood. My youngest son, about 3, spotted an old dog turd and exclaimed, “Look. Petrified poopoo.” If I were to say the phrase to my kids, they would immediately call to mind their grandfather, his way of lecturing, the woods, our family dynamics. My son recently started a list of phrases that have special meaning for our family, allusions that call to mind whole sets of experiences, words that are potent and alive.

There is an interesting post on writers’ spaces today on Tales from the Reading Room (see link.)

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