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  • Jayne Lisbeth

Carpe Diem


Daddy and me, Fort Lauderdale, 1956


Carpe Diem


For decades Tim has berated me, “Why do you live in the past?” I would become defensive and search for excuses. I asked myself: Why did I live in the past? Did I? I parried, not quite knowing the answer myself.

“I don’t live in the past. It’s just that I have no one else to tell my stories to. You’re the only one I have to share my history with.”

“Huh. Carpe Diem.” he would say. “Seize the day. Be here now.”

I’m a worrier. Worriers can’t live in the present. We have to analyze every action, past, present and future. My history invades my nightly dreams; the books on the shelves of my mind.

We accepted our détente. I would try to live in the present and he would listen to my past. It was an uneasy solution which worked for awhile.

Then, I started writing my memoir, which took approximately ten years. I had been trying to write my memories in one form or another for most of my adult life. An actual memoir was another story entirely. I wouldn’t just be sharing my past with Tim, but with the world, family, friends, total strangers. The ghosts and skeletons from my closets challenged me constantly. They sat on my shoulders as I bared my soul. How much did I feel comfortable revealing? For me, it was pretty much everything.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. There fell ten years of writing into the drain of my life which became Writing In Wet Cement.

If Tim was disgruntled by my stories told to him through the 30 years of our lives together I guessed he wouldn't be pleased with the rehashing, verbal diarrhea and vomiting of my life onto the painful pages of Writing In Wet Cement. I was wrong. My dear first editor and confidant knew all my stories and secrets. He encouraged me to share.

He became my sounding board as I wrote. I tested his responses to each phase of my writing, “Do you remember this story? Should I include this part of my life? He always supported me.

My heart, soul and past lives are spewed onto the pages in the convoluquacious never-ending words from my past to my present in Writing In Wet Cement.

At last, I had an answer to his question, “Why do you live in the past?”

“Because it’s important. It’s where I came from.” I told him triumphantly.

Finally, he understood. He nodded his head slowly. I could see the light of enlightenment in his eyes. I pushed my advantage.

“Remember all those stories you told me about your childhood? Playing in the neighborhood, making Olympic Games with your bikes, baseball, playing in the woods, fishing every day? Then, later, barhopping with Danny. Playing whiffle ball, Stuporbowl and soccer with all your buddies? Isn’t that all part of your own childhood, your youth, your history? It’s in our stories that we become the keepers of one another’s lives. Your history is the preservation of your life in my heart, in other’s hearts and lives and souls. So, maybe, just maybe, sometimes it’s okay to live in the past, so we can preserve it for the future.”

I could see that my beloved had understood. My message was illuminating. I had no idea the extent to which he took his revelation to heart.

Two weeks ago Tim started talking about something called Legacy Box. He reminded me of old 8mm films my dad, an avid amateur photographer, had taken through the years. I remembered my father’s beautiful Zeiss Ikon camera, which was hidden deep in my Grandmother's hope chest in its original leather case.

I smiled at the memory. “Yeah. you know my dad was never without his his Zeiss. On trips he always took his movie camera. Pretty unique for the early 1950s. They’re around here, somewhere.” I looked at the ceiling imploringly. Where were all those old reels of 8mm films? I wondered.

Tim interrupted my thoughts. “I found them.”

“Found what? Images of a zillion items flooded my brain. My 1975 journal? That lost earring? My mother’s slippers? Were they under the couch? Where was all that lost stuff?

“The films. I found them. Your dad’s home movies. They were in big metal boxes in the garage. They’re all labeled with dates and locations. I found them.”

The years dissipated. The past came flooding back. I saw my father with his ever-present Zeiss strung around his neck. I remembered those skinny metal tins filled with black film wound tightly inside. I heard the whir of the movie projector as Daddy, Mom, my sister and I sat in the dark watching our lives light up the room. Tim had discovered all those old reels of memories, of history and handed them to me on the altar of my heart.

He pulled out the galvanized boxes filled with 70-year-old reels of film. They had been safely kept during all my family’s moves from New York to New Jersey, to Siesta Key and finally to my home in Tampa. I had become the safekeeper of the films after my mother’s death in 1998. Then, the reels of film had traveled through my three moves and into one storage locker. How had they survived, let alone been found?

“It's your birthday gift. Choose the most important reels of film. I'll send them off to Legacy Box. Then they make them into DVD’s.”

I looked at his offering. My father’s handwriting was carefully written on each label: “Europe, 1951. Visit with the Klines 1952. Great Neck, Saddle Rock, 1953. Christmas to New Years and Spring Boca Raton, 1953.”

I chose reels #6 and #9. In my father’s precise European handwriting he had written:

#6: Saddle Rock, begins November 14, 1951 (my mother’s 37th birthday); Boca Raton, ends April 13, 1952.”

#9: August 29, 1952, Klein’s trip USA (my father’s beloved sister, Lisbeth, and her visit with her family from Germany to our Great Neck home); First part Florida trip, December 1954-January 1955.”

I looked at my sweetheart with his hopeful, happy gift. I said, “So. You’re making me a DVD from 70-year-old reels of 8mm film my father took? I thought you didn’t like me to live in the past.”

“I know. But I wanted to see who you were as a little girl.”

We had come full circle, from the past to the present. What more could anyone ask for in life than to have someone who knows, loves and listens raptly to our histories?

My sweetheart, my husband understood. No one lives in their past. We are preserving our history for the future. Carpe diem doesn’t just mean “Seize the Day.” It also means seize the past.

We’re excitedly awaiting the return of our original reels of film along with our Legacy Box DVDs. We can’t wait to get out the popcorn, turn out the lights and once again have my childhood light up the room.








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