Rasma Says

Musings, deliberations, flashes of unaccounted for brilliance…

Rememberances, East Tennessee

It’s always unsettling to receive a one-line email that is not part of an on-going email conversation you are having with someone. Especially when that email is from a stranger. A stranger who calls you by your name. Correctly. Then you know something is up.

I have the advantage of having a name that confounds posers. Dear Mr. Haidri, Dear Hadr Rahsm, Congratulations Sylvia Rasma! These configurations always alert me to spam even before I see the sender is trying to sell me a penis enlarger or inform me how to retrieve my winnings from the Nigerian national lottery. Even in pre-internet days the post that wasn’t really post was easy to identify by the muddled presentation of my name.

But the one-line email had my name correct. It came right to the point. Rasma, I am the daughter-in-law of Ann Nygard of Tennessee, USA. If you are the same Rasma whose photos and correspondence I found in her papers, please contact me.

Gulp. Of course I am.

Ann and Mike Nygard were the parents of my sister’s cast-off boyfriend who became my first boyfriend. I was fourteen and he was nineteen. Ann and Mike were always nice and kind and friendly to me, and I think they were glad when my parents moved me north to Wisconsin, putting a certain distance between me and their son who was basically of a different generation if not culture.

I remember a conversation he had with my mother one day standing underneath the redwood deck of our fieldstone and cedar split-level ranch in Wiltshire Estates. It went something like this:

Mother: “Rasma is going to the UNIVERSITY.”
Boyfriend: “Well ma’yam, with all dew ruhspect, whon sheeis feefteen sheekun dew whashee whans.”

I was standing there, barefoot as I recall, with a slight inkling that she was more right than he was. But he was born-again and my mother wasn’t, so he had the authority of God on his side. I wondered what would become of me. Neither of them asked my opinion on the subject.

Ann and Mike liked me, but discouraged their son from following me north. He did though. When he was twenty-one he got in the car and drove some two thousand miles through five states and showed up on my parents’ doorstep dressed in a suit and tie. I wasn’t a great communicator, pathologically reticent and afraid of disappointing others. Yet I got the message across that with two years of high school left I had no intention of marrying him. Maybe I dared to tell him I had fallen for the boy with the smiling eyes who had lent me $5 the first day of school to pay my book fees and was now teaching me to drive a stick-shift in his green Volkswagon bug. I had a new future, a northern future. I remember him standing at our black dial-up wall phone and saying into the receiver, “Maw-maw, yoowus righ, yee-ehs mawmaw, sheesayd no.” He got off the phone and grinned at me. “My mawmaw tollme nutta come, but I jess haydu try.” Then he got into his black sedan and drove south again.

A few years later, when I was not much older than twenty-one myself, I visited Ann and Mike with the man that I did marry. We were on a tour of the South, the year Knoxville, Tennessee hosted the World’s Fair. My former boyfriend was there. He was married, or had been married. There was some kind of scandal that Ann told me about. His wife run off with the meter reader, or something like that. We were all standing around in the kitchen and he grinned at his mother, keeping an eye on my husband, and saying, “Maw-maw whoosee favuh?” I was confused as to why he was questioning my husband’s political leanings. And why would Ann know who my husband favored? “I dunno son,” she said, but he kept grinning and asking. “Cumon whoosee favuh?” I suddenly got that he meant “who does he look like” when he named someone and Ann agreed. I had been away from the south so long that I had forgotten the language.

We had a nice afternoon with the Nygards and that was the last I saw them. But yes, I must have sent some pictures over the years, and I do remember that Ann and I exchanged some letters. Both of these things would have remained forgotten if not for the sudden ominous presence of the one-line email in my “contact from rasma.org” mailbox.

Please contact me.

I send a confirmation of my identy, and figure that I would hear in return that Ann is dead and they want to send me my letters and pictures. One day goes by. Nothing. On the second day I get an email that contains a large picture of Ann sitting in an easychair, smiling, covered with a patchwork quilt that has apparently come out of the Happy Birthday bag that is on the floor by the chair.

Time seems to have stood still, because Ann looks exactly the way she did that day in her kitchen with her son saying Maw-maw whoosee favuh? Amazing!

The email from her daughter-in-law is longer this time. She informs that Ann is 84 and has Alzheimers, so she remembers the long-ago past more vividly than anything else. “When I visit Ann in the nursing home I will ask her about you to see if she has a remembrance.”

I am standing on a dot on one side of the globe, near the north-pole. Rotate the earth backwards and find a dot on the other side. It is a nursing home in east Tennessee where I am a topic of conversation. The mention of me brings hope and satisfaction. My name and antics are associated with health and longevity. I was found, excavated from the dresser drawers of a soft-spoken woman who was always smiling and always liked me, like a mother. She wasn’t my mother or my mother-in-law, but she kept rememberances of me in her desk drawer for the next generation to find and wonder: who is that?

I am amazed and flattered. And undeserving. A bony brown-skinned girl, last seen at 15, or 21. And valued for a lifetime.

There is a poem here, my writer’s group would have said. They might have helped me find it. Alone, I have only an inkling of it. Awe and wonder. Yes, there is a poem here. But I don’t know what it is.

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This entry was posted on 01/10/2011 by in Uncategorized and tagged .

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