We had a marvelous – albeit looooong – holiday break. There were two highlights that I can’t stop thinking about. The first was a visit, in the snow, to Old Sturbridge Village on Boxing Day. Because of some combination of these two factors, the place was deserted. We were very nearly the only people there. We walked around in the gently falling snow, and I couldn’t stop thinking about where this country began, and of feeling pride in how tenacious, brave, and stubbornly determined those who came before us were.
Then, the next day, my entire family (my parents, my sister and her husband and two daughters, and Matt, Grace, and Whit) went to see some of my late grandfather‘s pieces of art at an art museum in western Massachusetts. He donated them before his death. The pieces of art are undistinguished, I think, from an artistic standpoint, but they hold tremendous sentimental value. In a room where a large portrait of a Chinese man looked down on us, four of Pops‘ grandchildren looked at some of the snuff bottles that he brought back from his childhood in China and displayed in his homes.
I was overcome with memory. The portrait had hung on the wall of my grandparents’ home in Long Island, site of so many of my childhood memories. Then it had moved to the wall of the apartment my grandparents moved to, the apartment both lived in when they died. The snuff bottles hold a real place in my memory too, particularly the story my mother tells of coming around a corner in the Long Island house to see the toddler me, having pushed a chair against the wall, inches away from grabbing one of the fragile bottles.
This portrait, these bottles, along with the scroll that hangs on the wall of our home and Pops’ fluent Mandarin until the day he died: these were all relics of his childhood, spent in Beijing. I often forget how extraordinary this small detail is: my grandfather, with his four siblings, grew up in Beijing. In that small room in western Massachusetts, four of Pops’ great-grandchildren leaned over treasures that he had brought back from his own childhood in Asia: tiny bottles carved out of ivory and coral, the portrait of a Chinese man. Their childhood, my childhood, his childhood: the room was full of memory, and years banged together, reminding me of all that had come before.
It is such an immense world, and we are so small. Two of the four children in that room lived in Israel for a year as small children. The two grandchildren in that room, now women in their (late!) 30s, grew up largely in Europe. I felt a flush of shame at my family’s unadventurousness, I’ll admit: we’ve stayed a lot closer to home than anyone else in the room. But still: all of our paths are different, and they take us into the world, no matter where we go.
Both of these experiences, in their own way, involved the past glinting through the present. Whether it was with respect to America in general or my family in particular, I confronted where I came from on that trip, was reminded of the spirit of both endurance and adventure that marks my and our history.
Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox