From the Psalter:
Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down;
touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
Hurl the lightning and scatter them;
shoot out your arrows and rout them.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 144:5-6 (BCP Version) – July 6, 2013.)
The Psalmist might think that this is what has happened in the mountains around my home town of Las Vegas, Nevada.
I belong to a Facebook group of Las Vegas natives and during the past 24 hours other members have posted news of what is called the Carpenter Canyon Fire at Mt. Charleston, about 40 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and a fire near Kingman, Arizona, called the Dean Peak Fire. Kingman is 100 southeast of Las Vegas. As I write this, about 9,000 acres are reported burning at Mt. Charleston; 5,400 acres at Dean Peak. Neither fire is contained.
It is believed that both fires were started by lightning, or as the Psalmist might have put it, by God, shooting his arrows, touching the mountains, making them smoke! I don’t really think that’s the case (that God caused the fires), but the verses of the Psalm have made me think about the paradox of memory.
Both Mt. Charleston and Kingman are locations that loom large in my childhood memories. I learned to ski at Mt. Charleston, but that was as an adult. As a child my family would go to Mt. Charleston for one day every winter so that my older brother, some of my neighborhood friends, and I could play in the snow. Kingman was a place we stopped along the road when traveling east from Las Vegas to Kansas to visit grandparents and other relatives; it was also the place my father died of injuries sustained in a single-car motor vehicle accident when I was 5-1/2 years old. One of the single most vivid memories of my childhood was the day my mother and I drove to Kingman to claim the remains of my father’s automobile, a 1957 hard-top convertible Thunderbird.
That car figures large in nearly all my memories of my father. It was white with a red interior. During the top-down months of the year, the removable hard top would be leaned against the side of our house, protect from the elements by the grape arbor which functioned as a carport at our home and by a canvas tarp with which Daddy would carefully cover it. (Yes, I’m 61 and, yes, I still call my father “Daddy” – death does that; it freezes time and our ways of thinking about the beloved departed.)
The reports of the fires at Mt. Charleston and Kingman have brought those memories rushing back. For no good reason other than remembrance, my eyes filled with tears when I read of the Nevada fire.
I was angry when I first read of the Mt. Charleston fire; my first thought was, “My memories are being destroyed!” But the truth is that the places in my memories long ago ceased to be. The Mt. Charleston of 2013 is not the Mt. Charleston of 1955. The paradox is that our memories are both persistent and impermanent.
I’m sure it’s long gone, and although I don’t recall its name, I remember very clearly the coffee shop in Kingman where we would stop for breakfast on those eastbound trips. We would always get up and start before dawn; two hours or so later, we would get to the junction of Highway 93 and Route 66 at Kingman. I would have gone to sleep in the backseat of my mother’s car, so I would be awakened as we stopped there. It was the only place and the only time when I was allowed to have a chocolate milkshake for breakfast! My memory of that restaurant is persistent; the place was impermanent.
The same goes for the lodge at Mt. Charleston (still there, but completely different) . . . my dad’s Thunderbird (there are others still around; I’d like to own one, but I don’t have $50,000 to buy it) . . . the house we lived in (remodeled several times). My memories are persistent; the things and the places are not. Most importantly, the people are not. I believe they live on in the Presence of God and in the company of the saints in light . . . but they are not here. So memory is not only persistent, it is important.
The name of this blog is taken from another Psalm, Psalm 78. The first few verses are these:
Hear my teaching, O my people;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
That which we have heard and known, and what our forefathers have told us,
we will not hide from their children.
We will recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord,
and the wonderful works he has done.
He gave his decrees to Jacob and established a law for Israel,
which he commanded them to teach their children;
That the generations to come might know, and the children yet unborn;
that they in their turn might tell it to their children.
Memory persists so that it may be shared, that the things which we have heard and known may be told to our children. Share your memories! Too many of us live with an absence of family memories; we hunger to know the past. Don’t let that happen to your children.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.