The Making of Myth

The Making of Myth January 29, 2013

We are sorting through Mama’s things. Sweaters and shoes. Glassware and gardening books. Microwave and toaster oven. Bedside table and table top TV. The Singer sewing machine that she used to make Easter dresses, and quilts so heavy they would make an Eskimo sweat.

There isn’t a ton household of items to go through. She’d shed herself of the big house items a few years back when she moved in with my brother and his family. Mama’s life got smaller and smaller as she aged. I suppose, if the retirement communities and long-term care facilities are any indication, most of us will have lives that grow smaller and smaller. I’m not sure how the Prayer of Jabez as presented in that bestselling book by the same title works when you age — how does one increase one’s territory when packing things away, getting ready for the final trip home?

It is messy work in many ways. Not just wiping off the dirt that has collected on the lids of things put up for storage, but this work of deciding. There are emotions attached to the things of loved ones. Her bibles were the first things to go. They were claimed that very first day after her death. I suppose that says something about our family, the way we attach ourselves to life ever after and life as we knew it, or wished it had been.

It happens whenever people die. Family comes together and pieces together the myths. Family lore, we call it. The stories we will tell and retell about the dead. Each person will contribute their own personal memory, adding a triangle of red here, a shard of blue there, and every now and then something translucent and clear, until collectively we’ve created a stained glass memorial through which our dead will long be viewed.

Myth, says Joseph Campbell, is much more important and true than history. History is journalism and you know how reliable that is. (My apologies to the historian in the family.)

Myth is where the heavy-lifting of memory begins.

Myth is forgiving.

Myth is redemptive.

Myth is infused with grace.

Myth embodies mystery and a bit of fairy dust magic.

Myth creates a work of art, a work of beauty from the brokenness of our lives.

Myth is what we are left holding once the remains of the life lived are given away.

This was one of Mama’s most prized possessions. She had it from the time she was four or five years old. What is the story behind it as you imagine?


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  • Janie

    “how does one increase one’s territory when packing things away, getting ready for the final trip home?” — I believe that, as one moves toward that final trip home, one’s territory moves away from physical things toward non-physical things, like lives that one has touched, good deeds that one has done, memories that one has made, etc. As one sheds the physical things getting ready for that final trip home, the non-physical things are magnified because those non-physical things are what matter the most. — Just my two cents worth. 🙂

    • rumitoid

      Excellent insight. I am at that age and what you said is my present experience. I had those borders to maintain my acre of self. What I am now discovering is that when I take the fencing down, the whole world in now my home; it only boxed me in. At first, this de-construction seems like unrelenting losses. But as I slowly (and yes, reluctantly and often with the weeping and gnashiing of teeth) come to acceptance of the inevitable, there comes an incredible lightness, a soaring of spirit not previously possible. I hear the warriors whoop: “It is a good day to die” and feel greater courage and freedom than I ever knew.

  • John in PDX

    It’s a rock. She used it to beat her brother with when he tried to steal her food. Later she used to bonk you on the noggin when you were bad.

  • Mary B

    find any frozen tomatoes that were like 10 years old?
    I agree with Janie. Physical things stop mattering, spirituals start to take over. No one can take your memories away. I bet you mom had great ones.

  • Mary B

    She came to Jesus and found the rock on the same day. He was her Rock and she never wanted to forget it.

  • Sandi

    I can fully understand your Mama treasuring this object, a rock, that she found or was given at such a young age. It probably came with,or generated, folklore about a brave young Indian who bound it to a wooden handle and used it as a means of protection, tomahawk style. I can understand, because I had one so similar that I picked up on our family homestead in Wyoming. On that day, at the age of six, I listened to my Grandma tell me about the Native Americans that had inhabited that state before the settlers came. She took me to a large anthill, and taught me to move the grains of sand that the ant colony had pain-stakingly piled up until we found a few small glass beads. As I held them in the palm of my hand, she reminded me that we were not the first people that walked that land. And, someday we would be gone and others would walk where we had walked. I turn 70 this year, a Grandma and even a great-grandma in my own right, and seeing your Mama’s “treasure” reminds me to pass on some of our family “myths” before I “walk on” to my destiny.