by Sharon Kennedy
Melancholy is as much a part of me as my right arm. What would I do without my constant companion? Who would I turn to for comfort? Sometimes I stand in my yard and feel the wind upon my face. Regardless of the season it doesn’t take long before a few tears trickle down my cheeks. Salty tears, full of sorrow and yearning. They’re always there, just waiting to grab a memory. I look at the land of my youth and wonder what will become of it when I’m gone.
Will my memories stay behind? Will my spirit roam the places where I played as a child? Why do I still mourn the passing of loved ones taken years ago? So many questions run through my mind as I look at my surroundings. I hear every sound of nature from the friendly greeting of the chickadees to the warning chatter of the squirrels to the crunch of my boots on the frozen snow. I hear the wind as it shakes the branches of the spruce trees. I watch as something I cannot see moves the leafless limbs of the maple.
Was I always like this? Did I always feel my environment so deeply? Was my connection with this land forged the day I was conceived? There is no other plausible explanation for my attachment to this place. My neighbors have no idea who lives behind my metal walls. In winter they see a woman dressed in worn jeans and a bulky green coat. She’s putting on her snowshoes then breaking trails in the field behind her home. In summer they see her working in her yard. A baseball cap is pulled low over her eyes to avoid the sun. To them, she’s a strange creature, and a subject of ridicule.
A few more days and another year will be gone. For some folks, the months that passed were pleasant ones, full of good news, sound health, secure employment, weddings, births, rekindling of old friendships, and pleasures beyond measure. For other people, the days passed too quickly as they watched a loved one slip away due to C-19 or another illness. Some were taken quickly as the result of a heart attack or car accident. For many, this year was a sad and tumultuous time. For others, it was the best year of their life.
Mom always cautioned me against showing emotions. “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve,” was her constant admonishment when I was a little girl. The first few paragraphs of this musing would have horrified her. The thought of exposing my deepest feelings to readers would have sent shivers down her back. I was like Mom for a long time. Emotions were an embarrassment to me. An encumbrance I could do without.
Many of you feel the same if you were raised in the 1950s. Denial of emotions was as common as a white cotton shirt. We were a stalwart group. We soldiered along no matter what the circumstances. We made the best of things. Voicing our complaints or desires was a useless endeavor. Our parents didn’t want to hear them because there was nothing they could do about anything. At an early age, we knew there was no magic wand to wave away our childhood troubles.
I’m not sure when I first dared put a tiny slice of my heart on my sleeve, but I know it was a gradual process that started years ago. As I sifted through memories and peeled away layers of my life, I remember testing Mom’s advice when I was a teenager. I wrote an Open Forum letter to the editor of our local newspaper. When Mom read it, she thought it was a good idea to express my opinion about striking Brimley teachers, but not such a good idea to actually send the letter.
I found it, along with lots of others, in a shoebox. Stores didn’t sell fancy boxes in the old days. We saved mementos in shoe, candy, or cigar boxes. My diary from 1958 was in that shoebox. When I read what I had written, I was surprised at how little my writing style had changed over the years. I recorded birthdays, deaths, and of course, detailed accounts of the weather, but the words in my diary were void of emotion. If a teacher paddled me at school, I merely wrote I had a “bad” day. If a cow died I wrote, “Beverly choked to death on a piece of wire.” If my sister’s dog was hit by a midnight driver, I recorded, “This morning we found Sparky dead in a ditch.” There was no mention of how I felt. When my only friend of 10 years moved, I wrote “Lorraine left today.”
As a child, I followed Mom’s warning. Outwardly I kept perfect control of my emotions. I might squabble with my siblings, but never in public or when someone visited. In school, I kept my mouth shut and spoke only when called upon. Classmates thought I was “quiet” or “stuck-up.” God alone knows what they think of me now as I scatter emotions like a winter storm scatters snowflakes.
While writing this, my melancholy lifted. Before it returns, I’ll wish you a Happy New Year. And going contrary to Mom’s advice, I’ll share some of my own: Occasionally, it’s okay to show your emotions.