Monday, December 22, 2008

b,d,b,d,b,d, S.B.D. ~ forget me not:

The other day I finally remembered to stop by Paul's Surplus ("If Paul's doesn't have it, you don't need it.") and look for a topographic map of Dutton Hill and the surrounding countryside. The contour lines of the land are an essential part of the design for You'll Always Come Back ~ they remind me of sound waves.

Dutton Hill was on the edge (of course) of one map and another, so I got both. It's nice to have them just for the names of the knobs that lead off toward the eastern horizon, once a part of our everyday vocabulary because we climbed them on foxhunts; Red Bud Knob, Bald Knob, Hewey Knob, Sugar Hill Knob, Buzzard Knob, Saltpeter Knob, Jingling Hole Knob... on into hazy blue distance. Not many people know their names nowadays.

Looking closely at the map I saw that there was another Cundiff cemetery, (my grandmother's family) one that would have been within sight of The Old House, out in a field sloping down toward Pitman Creek, so I went to visit it.

The stones were very old, all turned over and broken by vandals, embedded in the earth, most impossible to read. Some were cut by hand, from field limestone, with initials and inscriptions scratched in, now nearly worn away, some with no inscription at all that I could see. I could make out one early date; born 1777, died 1823. Cemeteries frame life (and death) - b,d,b,d,b,d. + dates and a name- the most basic information. The contents of the frame are more mysterious ~ the ancestors probably stood on that same slope where I stood, looking across the knobs to where the sun rises in the east, arcing over the hill to disappear in the west ~ b,d.

Yesterday I was looking through the studio bookshelf for something and happened to spy a book from The Old House that I'd never looked closely at ~ titled "Siegfried and Beowulf"; sure enough, a condensed version of the medieval blood-saturated Nibelungleid I'd just finished. The Nibelunglied is sited mainly at Worms, nearest town to the ancestral home of the Duttons (then Duttings) in the 1630s. But who in the old house read it?

On the frontispiece was the answer, the words "forget me not" and a little drawing of a sprig of myosotis (latin for mouse-eared, a description of the fuzzy little leaves of the forget me not flower.) - the emblem of my grandmother, Sarah Belle Cundiff. I've seen it now in a half dozen places, in books and ledgers - the sprig and the words, sometimes with her initials.

Remembrance ~ that's the meaning of the forget me not. So says her copy of The Language and Poetry of Flowers ~ with this poem by Byron on the subject:


But ever and annon of griefs subdued,
There comes a token like a scorpion's sting,
Scarce seen, but with fresh bitterness imbued:
And slight withal may be the things which bring
Back on the heart the weight which it could fling
Aside forever; it may be a sound -
A tone of music - summer's eve - or spring, -
A flower - the wind - the ocean - which shall wound,
Striking the electric chain wherewith we are darkly
And how and why we know not, nor can trace
Home to its cloud this lightning of the mind;
But feel the shock renew'd, nor can efface
The blight and blackening which it leaves behind,
Which out of things familiar, undesign'd
When least we deem of such, calls up to view
The spectres whom no exorcism can bind, -
The cold, the chang'd - perchance the dead - anew,
The mourn'd, the lov'd, the lost, - too many! yet
how few!


Mary Beth said...

Yes, the topographical map lines calls to mind sound wave but it also suggests the growth rings of a tree, ripples of a stone tossed into water, and (eerie but highly appropriate) a human bone cell. A good bone cell photo can be found at

Alan Evil said...

Forget-me-nots seem, in a way, to be antithetical to what you're doing. You are not not forgetting, not remembering, you are imagining and inventing. Most of what I know of our family is a creation in my own mind aided by stories told by others and framed by my own physical memories, but even those memories are faulty and suspect, no matter how clear they seem to the mind's eye. You are teetering between fable and history, between imagination and memory. But then again, aren't we all?