Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones

My journal is filled with disconnected ideas, weather conditions, and random thoughts.  Days and dates, and months of the year quickly pass by.   Yesterday marked the first day of Spring, an annual milestone, filled with new hopes and dreams, like a toddler taking their first steps across the room. 

I don’t remember learning to walk, but will never forget when I learned to ride bike.   One day, a small bicycle suddenly appeared in the yard, and I knew what to do.  It wasn’t mine.  It was borrowed, and I would teach myself to ride.  No eyes watched me, and no one talked.  No training wheels attached themselves to the frame, either.  It was hop on and go, from the top of a small embankment of the lawn, down.  The incline was slight, and the soft, fluffy grass protected me when I fell.  The time  spent balancing became greater than time on the ground, until finally I was sailing away.  It only took a day, or two.  Left to my imagination,  in this crucial task of growing up,  the  way to build and sustain my fragile confidence, was to be left alone, to own the accomplishment for myself.  

It just occurred to me that the photograph I took of the stepping stones, leading from the forest into the open field, can be a metaphor for every task I embark upon, in every new stage of life, like riding the bike.  And now, as each page of the calendar gets turned, and every new season passes by, the uncertainty remains as powerful as before.  But, to move along means to cross the stepping stones at every  juncture, and make the most, of tous les jours.   

Oh my gosh…

Here I am, in 2019, looking back on 2018.  The future is already here with days tripping over days at a rapid pace.  How can I keep track of the past if I can’t even keep up with the future, which becomes the past, before I blink an eye? 

The story of my life is trying to model others.  I suppose this came about from being the sixth child of seven.  Those in existence before me, already knew who they were, when I arrived. As for me, I wasn’t quite sure of myself and spent most of my time emulating, imitating and trying to figure out this enigma of self.  Four of my siblings being boys, inevitably meant I became the quintessential tomboy. Never completely sold on the male identity, I was extremely feminine, as well.  Everyone kept trying to tell me who I was, but somehow they were wrong. 

We were lucky to have loving parents to help us feel secure, and turn into decent people.  We came from the ideal family, even.  Living in a small town, many of our friends envied our altruism, and wanted to be a part of us.  So my parents pretty much opened their doors, and let everyone in. We used to call the place, Grand Central Station.  Such was life. 

Now I am preceding 2018 by decades.  The memory won’t stop.  How do I remember?  Simple, I write things down, and look back.  It’s a good way to know yourself.  I think of my dad while he was in the Army from 1941 to 1945, and how he kept a diary the whole time.  He tried to write faithfully everyday, but when the duties of combat called, he had to stop, and encapsulate a period of time in one entry later.  His diary was his companion.  It kept him close to himself.  He never lost track of who he was, which was important in war time, when the bombs hurled over head.  There’s nothing like your thoughts in one place to keep you grounded. 

I am grateful to my parents for instilling the art of self actualization through journaling, and other artistic endeavors. Ideas, activities, feelings, travels, facts and dreams all get recorded to inform me of who I was when I was writing. Bad things turn out to seem not so bad. And, it’s useful when you want to know who you were with, where you spent time, and why you did the things you did at a given moment in time. Looking back at old entries is a magical way to experience the present and head on into the future. Day, after day.

Last Threshing in the Coulee

Hamlin looks back with appreciation for the life they led in the Coulee.  The hard work was never drudgery for him as he enjoyed being witness and participating in the shared camaraderie with his cousins, uncles, father, and mother.  They all worked for the common good.

He was old enough however to understand that his father was no longer interested in staying on this Wisconsin farm, that he was going to sell out, and move further West. Hamlin was emotionally devastated and feared the impact this uprootedness would have on his mother, and subsequently on him, for when his mother was unhappy, so was he.

Hamlin intuitively understands the change a move away from family can have on the female spirit, and expresses it in this way with regards to his mother.

I fear it did not solace my mother as she contemplated the loss of home and kindred.  She was not by nature an emigrant, – few women are…most of her brothers and sisters still lived just across the ridge in the valley of the Neshonoc, and the thought of leaving them for a wild and unknown region was not pleasant.

To my father, on the contrary, change was alluring. Iowa was now the place of the rainbow and the pot of gold.

The family would enjoy one more threshing and one more Thanksgiving, but by the first of the year, father said he would be off searching for new land.

As if writing his memoir, Hamlin lamentably looks back in time:

Oh those blessed days, those entrancing nights!  How fine they were then, and how mellow they are now, for the slow-paced years have dropped nearly fifty other golden mists upon that far-off valley. From this distance I cannot understand how my father brought himself to leave that lovely farm and those good and noble friends.

There seemed to be no way the family could sway Hamlin’s father differently.  The only choice was to look forward to a new life on the Prairie.

From A Son of Middle Border

By Hamlin Garland