The Barbed Past

Hefting rotted stumps in fall clean-up today, I tripped on a surprising strand of rusted barbed wire and tore my pants. What crude past is this, surfacing near my well-trod woodpile path?

Whoever strung this barbed wire is no doubt long since passed from the living.

Here’s the past again  – tangible in my hand and elusive with its story – or so the cliché goes. But this last week, I received an email that explained a great deal of my life, all the way back to my very earliest childhood, that gloaming of early memory. Like a tangled wire that has been straightened and trued, I saw a clear thread of my own life shiningly clear.

And yet, time is a strange thing. Ten years ago, I might not have understand what an illumination these words are; I kept the letter to myself. Someday, perhaps, I’ll pass it along to my own children. In the meantime, I’m likely to snip away at that barbed wire, so no one else trips on that particular debris of the past.

There, in front of us, where a broken row of houses stood between us and the harbour, and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale-blue and pink underwear cakewalking on a clothesline, or a lady’s bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls, a splendid ship’s funnel, showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture – Find What the Sailor Has Hidden – that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.

– Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

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