Saturday, October 3, 2009

moving to the end of the line

It was at this turn that my parents, abandoning hope of the garden, moved us away from its outskirts forever. Twice daily my father rode on a trolley car that groaned to a stop at every other corner between our door and a subway entrance in Manhattan, and my mother, to save him that hour a day, set out in search of four rooms within a walk of the subway; she found them across the river in Washington Heights. She then made ready for moving-day, and the family toiled for weeks to meet it to her satisfaction.

. . . From the bins in the cellar, where each family padlocked its odder belongings, my father struggled upstairs with the two proud barrels which were part of our estate, for sole use on moving-day, and stood them in the dining room. In them our dishware was to travel, and nightly they commenced to fill, my mother kneeling at ten cartons segregated clothes, toys, linens, groceries, pots and pans, all our unbreakables gathered in reverse order to our need for them in the new house, trimly packed, and dustless under newspaper. For a month she was washing shelves and scrubbing floors, scouring everything from the exterior of windows--seated outside them on sills above five stories of clotheslines in tight-mouthed fear, until my father came home to take her place--to inside the oven, leaving the flat immaculate for future tenants. . . Item by item we withdrew from it our taste, colors, textures, love, and by breakfast time on moving-day, when my father unjoined the bedsteads and my mother hurried to pack the last dishes in a barrel top, the rooms were like the empty husk of itself a locust leaves behind. I hung out the window to see the van back up to our sidewalk--it was raining, a family custom--and soon the men were clumping upstairs and into the flat, three huskies in workclothes, who surveyed our knots of worldly riches, propped the door open, and hefted everything out, singly and in grunting pairs . . . Least intimidated by their brawn was our upright piano in the parlor, but it went too, swathed in mats and ropes. Dollied to the window hole and hooked to a tackle rigged on the cornice of the building, it was cursed and shouldered out, and for a dreadful instant swung in the air uncertain of doom, until a man on the sill steadied it with a hand, the sidewalk man began to pay rope out, and slowly the huge and precious instrument, the family's soul, descended . . .

With my sister she then boarded the trolley car for the new flat, to see our furniture set down in it by the huskies as prearranged in her mind and by nightfall have her house in order again, but my father and I stayed as overseers to the final suitcase. When the floors were bare of every echo of us my father locked the door, neither of us knowing it was the last flat in which I was to be my parents' child, and he went downstairs with the keys and a two-dollar leave-taking to seek the janitor in the cellar; the half-filled van labored away from the sidewalk into the future, but the drizzle had stopped, and when my father with his umbrella came out of the cellarway he agreed to hike into the new borough via the footbridge. Halfway across its redbricked span we had a last look at the neighborhood named for it, Highbridge, with its green bluff and the diadem of family houses along it and the grayed sky above it all, then turned our backs, and over a river stagnant as Lethe walked together out of my childhood. . .
-from A MASS FOR THE DEAD, by William Gibson

Photo titled "end of line" via the beautiful blog on montague ... also displayed at Flickr photostream.

History about Highbridge, Bronx
History about High Bridge, closed for 40 years and expected to reopen in 2012



Darlene said...

If I can ever get to the library I will have to check out William Gibson's book, Mass For the Dead. You have whetted my appetite. I must read the rest of the story.

Erika C. said...

This is great. It reminds me of the feeling on one of my many moves, of almost seeing the ghosts of the furniture in the now empty apartment. I like the locust husk image. How we are so connected to our belongings as part of our identity. Thanks!

montague said...

so lovely. thank you for using my photo lydia! best to you.

Lydia said...

@Darlene- Great! Is there someone who can pick it up for you at the library? There should be a service that does that.
I don't know if you have purchased any used books from sellers listed at Amazon; I have and with total satisfaction. There are paperback copies available HERE.

@Erika- Yes, most of us have moved at one time or another and can in some way relate. I love the description of all the work his mother did to make the rental shine for the next tenants. Don't see much of that kind of effort these days!

@montague- Thank you again for allowing me to use this beautiful photo for this post. I'm leaving it up the entire weekend and know the shot will be admired by anyone stopping by (according to my counter, that includes 50+ people on Saturday).

earthtoholly said...

Sooo sad..."it was raining, a family custom." Loved that! Thanks for this piece, Lydia, and I love that photo.

bfk said...

Dear Lydia, I was really enjoying the tale of the move, and then realized that I was living in one of the neighborhoods, Washington Heights. Then I learned that they were going to reopen Highbridge.

As you can see, we New Yorkers are really on top of things. That type of awareness is why we no longer have any trolleys. Feel free to let me know the New York News anytime.

Melinda said...

Wow--that piece made me want to go to the library and pick up the book. When I first started reading it, I thought, "Wow, Lydia has changed her writing style quite a bit for this piece!" Yes, you got me--but what an intriguing passage. It definitely made me want more!


Roxy said...

Lydia, what a great excerpt of a memoire. I was totally caught up in it - I noticed your previous posts have a different flavor than usual ... I wonder what's circulating in your brain? Thanks for your visit to my new site - I added a little button that allows people to subscribe. I hope you are well dear friend and YES I'm super excited. I like your new picture by the way :)

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Great. Have in mind that there is always something behind the lines...

Owen said...

I too got all the way to the bottom before realizing it was a quote from a book... but this just serves to confirm that not only do you write well, you also have excellent taste in literature... but then, I guess we already knew that, I mean, just about the first time I came here, you had posted a bit about Robert William Service...

Lydia said...

@earthtoholly- That line got me, too. It packs a load of emotions.

@bfk- Hey you, of Washington Heights residency, thank you for explaining why New Yorkers no longer have trolleys. Since you and I climbed up the Statue of Liberty together, perhaps in the future - when High Bridge has reopened - we can walk across it (including others).
Interesting that Gibson's memoir would stir up current news like that.

@Melinda- It's a great book, one of my favorites, and I think you'd appreciate it. Yup, I'd definitely have to change my writing style to compose this......oh, to be able to write like Gibson!

@Roxy- Oh, You! Your comment made me want to check back on the tone and temperament of my blog in the past, so I zipped through posts written a year ago. You are right that my posts have changed -- and I hadn't realized it. I guess it's the evolution of Writerquake, which of course is representative of what's going on with me. I notice that my posts were more like journal entries last year. They were more personal in that way. I'll give this some thought. I definitely should. It's cheaper than therapy (which I wouldn't mind indulging in since reading La Belette Rouge and seeing the many pluses in delving deeply).
Your new blog and the book tour are totally exciting. I hope anyone reading these comments will follow your name link to read more. So happy for you!

@Phivos- You make a good point! Not only is there something behind the lines, we undoubtedly each bring something into the reading based on our personal experiences. That's quite magic.

@Owen- Very flattering that you would think this something I could write, so thanks for that.
Since we share similar taste in some literature offerings I'm making a note to go check out your favorite books in your profile page. And I do love your writing and photography.

Anders Enochsson said...

This is a comment on 'moving to the end of the line'.

This was an delightful extract. I have not read William Gibson, but he sure writes intriguingly. There is something beyond belief strong about American social realism. I loved "Ragtime" and the thin line the author walked when telling about the Dream and also showing the true horrors it sometimes produced (for those not in it).

Came to think of the US as a unity after reading this.
The US is such an interesting country for me as a Swede. My parents had this kind of love-hate relationship with the US (Vietnam demonstrators). When I myself began to gather a kind of informed opinion about the US, I was pending between different emotions. The US doesn't leave people unemotional. And that's a good thing, I think.

I'm very impressed about how your culture (sorry for culture in singular, I'm simplifying something I have been thinking about for a time) helps people with visions. In Europe, people with visions are hardly recognized, because visions are not really an accepted part of Society. Sweden and Europe is all abut Group action, and this is very effective if you want to create a stable society, but I can't imagine that much interesting stuff happening in such societies. I'm an individualist myself. The fabric of a group society in a will try to oppress visionaries (not brutally, but soft) as a way of preserving itself, perhaps. Europe was an individualist society once (again, sorry for society in singular) but most people here has lost the desire of true individuality along the way (in the name of stability, I guess). Perhaps its all changing now. So many things are.
Anyway, I liked the excerpt.

Lydia said...

@Anders- You reminded me that I have not yet read Radtime and it's been on my list for too long.

Yes, I have thought you to be very much an individualist and your marvelous comments here are so strikingly astute (and instructive) that I sure hope more readers read this older post just to read what you have left here.

William Gibson won the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for the play "The Miracle Worker," about the amazing Helen Keller. She was a true American individualist, most definitely!



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