Remebering the Past

What is the strange power of chains of memory to move us?

The Spoon River Anthology has an ubi sunt poem called The Hill. It’s catalog of the dead builds to this climax, “Where is Major Walker who had talked with venerable men of the Revolution?” The other dead, only they died when they died. With Major Walker, other dead died with him.

I’m rereading the Last Lion, about Churchill’s pre-war years in the political wilderness. To make the point that Churchill was a bygone relic, the Last Victorian, out of step with his times, the author writes that Churchill remarked in Parliament one day that he himself remembered being a young man in the House listening to Gladstone recall the bonfires all along the coast at the new of the victory of Waterloo. It was unexpected and sublime.

Moroni was the last of his race. All his people, all their laws—he was the last. Now his memories of them are scripture.

There is a beautiful book called Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream. It draws on chains of memory. It is almost a book about chains of memory. “I saw the Tsar, blessing the Neva.”

I used to sit on my grandma’s ratty couch before she died and here the tiny, bent old woman croak out her young memories of seeing the last great cattle drive before the railroad extension came, of the days living out of a covered wagon, or when she rode her horse into the tiny town to waitress at the only café for the WPA men who were building the road. When I remember her remembering, I feel that I am precious.

Joseph Smith taught that we cannot be saved without our dead, nor they without us. As usual, his romantic ideals are more real than any amount of common sense. Of course we can’t. My dead are me. I can’t be raised without them anymore than I can be raised without my innards.

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