Three decades ago, I would have spurned Mr. Nimoy’s comment about “perfect moments.” I was in thrall to the existential belief that perfect moments do not exist.
As humans, we constantly rewrite history. Our lens changes as we witness birth, life, death. My father’s death last September brought me to a garden of perfect moments. And so began my family stories, not the artful fiction I desired. I am but a speck.
Memory calls up a moment in time.
My sister Mary and I sat in a window seat in Mama Hattie’s rambling house. Was there really a window seat? It does not matter. What matters is the morning light making a big square on the floor, inches from our bare feet. We slid our toes into the warmth. The floor creaked. Tiny particles swarmed in the sunlight, like thin layers of stirring gold dust. Our fingers chased one another in and out of the rays, whirling them into scattered sparkles.
I squinted into that light. The chairs and table receded and became shadowy as I focused on a photograph of Mama Hattie. She stood strong, slender, and young behind the smudged glass, her hair long and black. The baby boy on her hip held the dark tresses while she smiled gently.
I closed my eyes and shook my head. To my way of thinking, Mama Hattie always had gray hair. Only her eyes were black.
But a time ago she was not old. There were the stories she told after we had bathed, put on our airy nightgowns, and climbed on her heavy oak bed. Bouncing gently on the mattress, we sat on either side of Mama Hattie while she told of school days, cotton picking, and corn shucking. Her stories wandered around and never really ended; they just ran into each other. She paused frequently, and her voice was whispery, like the velveteen dresses that Mom sewed every Christmas.
After a while, I would lay my head against her shoulder and feel her jaw moving as her voice rolled and slurred and drifted into the past.
“Well, we’d go to this country school part of the year, but they’d turn out for the students to help their parents on the farm if they needed hit. When we was in school, teacher called roll, and we had to answer with a little memory gem. I still recollect those memory gems.
“Let me see. . . .
“Be kind and gentle to those who are old; kindness is better and dearer than gold. . . .
“And, um, hit’s a-comin’ to me. . . . If you’ve work to do, do hit with a will. Those who stands at the bottom never climbs the hill. . . .
“Them cotton pickin’s? Now those was a sight. Long about the end of pickin’ time, the bolls wouldn’t open real wide. Hit’d be so cold and bad weather that we’d just run and pick the bolls and then pick the cotton inside the house. . . .
“Then we’d have a candy pullin’! Boys and girls would gather ’round, and we’d pull that candy made from syrup. Hit would turn plum white we’d pull it so. . . .
“They’d have big corn shuckin’s, too! And the gal and boy that was a-settin’ next to each other, if they come to a red ear, he got to kiss her. . . .
“Nope, I never did have to kiss a single fellah. . . .”
Her shoulders shook, and we drowsily joined in her laughter. . . .
That world already had disappeared. But she spun those memories into perfect moments.