Downsizing Along Memory Lane

A Banker’s Box of Correspondence

The banker’s box is labeled “Correspondence A-L” and is chock-a-block full of big envelopes, each lined up alphabetically by first-name and written in felt-tipped marker in my familiar primary-teacher-handwriting.  The letters seem to be from friends and relatives, written from 1978 to 1983 — roughly the period of time from the beginning of my full-time residency in Oysterville until I met Nyel.  I must have been cleaning out file drawers for the occupancy of his work on his Master’s degree.  Typically, I threw nothing away.  Now is the time for that, but not before taking a peek.

Alastair Reid – Photo by Rollie McKenna 1960

The first contains a single letter from Alastair Reid (1928-2014)– Scottish poet, writer for the New Yorker. scholar of Latin American literature and good friend of my Uncle Willard’s.  As it happened, he was here visiting when I arrived with a caravan of worldly possessions from California.  I would stay with my folks until Willard and Louise vacated their cottage and returned to New York and then, while Ossie Steiner and the Mack Brothers built my house on the bay, I would live at W&L’s place and begin teaching at Long Beach School.

I remember that one evening during Alastair’s visit, he and I walked a mile or so south to my property and stood on the building site looking out at the bay.  We carried with us a cardboard model of the house that Charlie had made and positioned it this way and that to imagine the finished structure.  On the way back up my road, I teased him about the gorse coming up all along the edges.  “The seeds came in with the sand for the road,” I told him, “but it was probably some of your Scottish ancestors who brought the original ones.  Maybe even these!  I’ve heard they’ll wait 100 years, until conditions are just right, to germinate.  “Gorse is a scourge!”

“That’s odd,” he told me.  “It’s easily controlled in Scotland.  We just go along with a small blowtorch and zap the plants when they’re young!”  I think he must have been funning me.  Gorse is highly flammable and surely Scotland would have gone up in flames long since had his story been true.

His letter turned out to be a response to one of mine, apparently telling him that I had purchased his newly published volume of poems, Weathering, and how much I was enjoying them.  (Indeed, my favorite all-time poem by ANYone is the namesake poem in that volume.)  Reading the last paragraph in his letter absolutely blew me away and, if there was even a glimmer of doubt about taking a look in all the other envelopes, it has completely evaporated.  Here is what he said:

You’ll get lost in the Oysterville past through the family annals, and suddenly long-dead great-uncles will materialise in the cottage, and you’ll populate it with the vivid past.  It must make Oysterville very strange to be in, as though you were adding another huge dimension to it.


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