Or talking through pictures. Writers talk in symbols, through themes, metaphors, analogies.
Politicians also talk in code. States’ rights was code for telling the federal government to get its hands off Jim Crow laws, etc. (Etc is code for: I haven’t had enough coffee to think of examples.)
This picture, of the view from my mother’s back porch, is code. It is a symbol of longing, and nostalgia, and also a symbol for my continuing struggle with my family since my mother’s death. That back porch was where we gathered together, talked, laughed, behaved as if we all loved each other under Mother’s watchful eye.
In her presence, at least, we were the family I thought, assumed, we were.
So is that photo a yearning for the pretense? Do I really want that back?
No. I want the family I know we were. I haven’t seen or spoken to some of my siblings since the day of our mother’s funeral, and I miss them. My sister Cathy is one of the funniest people I know. So is my brother Barry, my younger sister Angie, and my baby sister Teresa. Even sister Jean could be droll and engage in our silliness at times.
This book symbolizes something to me too. I wanted to talk in code about family, and how we construct them, and what they mean.
It was written during and after my mother’s death, at a time that was very difficult for me to focus on the surface story of a young girl longing for a mother figure, and of an old woman assessing her life, wondering if she did enough.
My own mother certainly had those thoughts. She must have wondered, hoped, that she had done enough for us, that we would be all right without her. I had long talks with her. I knew she didn’t want to be here any more, but she knew that it was only her own will that kept us together as a loving family.
When she finally had us all together one last time, crowded into that small back bedroom, she let go. The last thing she said to me was, “I’m sorry you had to drive so far.” The last thing I said to her was, “It’s all right, Mama. I’m here.”
My problem is I can’t let go. I can’t let go of what that back porch means to me symbolically. (I can’t let go of it literally either, but that’s another story. ) That back porch, where we talked and laughed and behaved as if we all loved each other, could depend on each other, where Mama sat in her rocking chair and listened to our voices, smiling that small crooked grin at our carrying on, that is what I simply can’t believe was merely a symbol. I have to believe it was real.
On that back porch, Mother’s vision of this family ruled. On that back porch, we were the family she wanted us to be.
My mother was a hard, stubborn woman. She had to be. She forced us to behave as if we loved each other, and because we all loved her, we did as she willed.
I want that back porch family back. I want that iron will back. Maybe that is what she really bequeathed to me, the ability to see things as symbols of something else, and the will to force the symbolism into being.
Maybe what she left me was the ability to love things into being. To create what I want to be true.