She first uttered this dire warning, which she may have guessed I was going to ignore, when I unwisely railed against The Golden Mean, taught as an element of dogma in my eight grade Latin class.
I could not see any merit in the middle ground, preferring at that age to live in exaggeration and drama, which later cost me a great deal. As I study what I can find about Buddhism in its many forms, I am much taken by its espousal of the middle way, or, as Pema Chödrön says, “being like a log.” I expect I will never be much of a log but at least I can now see the merit of logginess.
Now that The Blue Box stands on the eve of being officially published on September 11th (of all dates), I wonder what my dear mother would have made of my treatment of what I call my foremothers.
She would certainly have despised that phrase as bad English and bad thinking. In the mind of many women of her generation, there was only one kind of ancestor, inevitably and obviously male.Yet the women in her family, although small in stature, were remarkably fiery and determined. My great-grandmother used her long widowhood to help to start the Richmond Woman’s Club; her daughter, my grandmother, battled poverty and the arduous labor of raising seven children to write hair-raising stories about the myths of the south; my mother overcame poverty and limited possibilities to win a scholarship to Radcliffe and went on from there to a very successful and quite public life.
That fieriness, however, is not what these three women would chose to be remembered by, but instead their great domestic and social gifts, the creation of families and households, and their sustenance through many disasters. “A lady should only be mentioned in the newspapers three times, at her birth, at her marriage, and at her death” a widely accepted axiom of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century opined, and while my great-grandmother allowed herself to be photographed in a Richmond paper and titled “The Oldest Debutante,” I can be sure she reacted to mention of the piece with murmurs of discreet disapproval.
And so in laying bare for public consumption the more interesting, and therefore more complex facts of their lives, I am risking what might be a sharp rebuttal from the grave. Why go into the death of my great-grandfather from TB, thought at that time to be inherited and therefore a cause for shame? Why allow my grandmother’s unmitigated racism to soil the page? Why lay out the details of the seventy year old scandal that erupted when my mother was studying in Athens?Because the truth is so much more interesting than all the layers of lies—or should I say simply avoidances and denials—that we lay over it.
So, you three dear ghosts, although you might never have been able to recognize it, I am doing you the greatest honor in laying forth the hidden details of your lives in The Blue Box.