You will die. You will not live forever. Nor will any man nor any thing. Nothing is immortal. But only to us is it given to know that we must die. And that is a great gift: the gift of selfhood. For we have only what we know we must lose, what we are willing to lose… That selfhood which is our torment, and our treasure, and our humanity, does not endure. It changes it is gone, a wave on the sea. Would you have the sea grow still and the tides cease, to save one wave, to save yourself?
—Ursula K. LeGuin
Disheveled and disgruntled as only an 11 year-old after a tedious school day can be, Abigail flopped into the raveling thrift-store chair opposite my desk. It’s everyone’s favorite chair; threadbare on the arms, an earthy green brocade with sea-blue weft threads, thick and heavy cushions worn to the shape of humanity with time. She stared over my shoulder out the window, opened to the unseasonably warm January afternoon.
I let her be, alone with her thoughts, keeping one eye on her as I quietly wrote. Her gaze shifted to the wall over one of the bookshelves lining my tiny office. A linen tapestry hangs there, embroidered with blue morning-glories. “Did you make that mom?”
I look at the piece of needlework, flashing briefly through dozen different walls in my homes on which it has hung. “No, I didn’t. I bought it at an estate sale decades ago.” I have reached the point in my life where I still feel young enough, but it’s possible for me to say a sentence like that and for it to be true. Decades ago… I have lived enough time now that decades ago seems close enough to touch.
“Why would someone sell that?” she asks, admiring what surely is familiar to her. It’s hung nearby her whole life. The fine linen square, once intended to cover a small table, is now covered in late-afternoon rainbows from the prisms hanging in the sunlit window.
“Hmmm.” I stop typing quietly and regard my daughter. Her hair is deep brown like her grandmother, but she has my wild cowlick on her hairline, splitting her bangs forever into disarray. Her eyes appear brown, until they are hit by sunlight, where they show their true deep green. I think the Punnett square precludes a brown-eyed daughter from two green-eyed parents I smile to myself. “I don’t know why anyone would get rid of something so pretty. And it’s not just that it’s pretty, it’s an example of material culture. By material culture, I don’t mean fabric—though it is fabric—I mean the things women make that denote their own histories.”
As I suspected this would, it piques her interest. She is so bright, and so interested in what is happening around her. She moves through the world in a bit of a cyclone, trailing bits of paper, glue, ink, rocks, sand—anything that has captured her imagination this week. We discuss women’s history, and how the gatekeepers of what we know as history have often been men, and women’s work is historically quieter, harder to find, but it’s there. And this is why I buy linens and samplers and recipe cards at estate sales. Some people don’t recognize this for what it is: women’s history, speaking just as clearly as the trumpeting of men, but quieter, and requiring eyes to see it.
She looks at me, her mind visibly rolling these stones over. “Is this why you write, mom?”
My heart flutters. “Yes. This is why I started writing, for certain. I was a young mom at home, not even pregnant with you yet, and I wanted a connection with my grandma. I missed her, and while I have things that belonged to her, I didn’t know what she thought, what she felt, when she was home with three little girls. So I started writing.”
“It’s kind of weird that there’s a record of every day of my life on Dandelion. I mean, I like it, but I don’t know anyone else who has something like that.” She is relaxed, staring out the window again.
I smile at her over the tray of pens and papers and candles on my cluttered desk. “Yeah, I guess maybe it could be weird. But it belongs to you, this story.”
“I like it. I like reading back over the stories of when we were little. I like the memories that are there. I like knowing dad is there, too.”
I nodded at her, resting my chin on my hand and closing my computer.
We talk quietly for a while about history—mine, hers, her great-granmother’s, and about my idly imagining someday, maybe someone, would find what I thought would be a humdrum life interesting. She laughed. She already knows that’s not exactly how things worked out.
“I’m hungry.” She peels herself from the great green chair and circles the desk to lean on me, her version of a hug, and kisses the top of my head. Our enormous dog trails behind her in hopes she will bless him with scraps of her snack as she heads downstairs.
It’s time to introduce her to Laurel, I think.