In Search of Lost Time


Each year in early spring family members congregated at my parents' house and resolutely nodded at each other without talking. We sat in a billowing silence for several hours and listened to the noise of passing traffic. As the nearest road was 10 kilometers away this ritual affirmed that affinity and honesty do not mix. Eventually someone gravely undernourished would rise from a chair and faint. A sign that food should be served.

We sat down to a restrained meal - usually throttled fish legs - and chatted about all sorts of things: work, illness, death, repetition, work, illness, death, repetition. Occasionally I gazed at the hollow assemble and thought, 'So many people sitting amid the paradoxes of identities and consciousness.' I include myself, of course. On numerous occasions I remember asking, with latent hope of dialogue, 'Where are we?' Did anyone answer? No one answered.

For a while I couldn't fathom my father. He possessed an inability to think rationally under stress. He was a man who said what he thought, formally and orderly. And he could doze in front of the living room fire at any time of day. He had a habit of keeping his cardinal smile for fire light. His favourite hobby was shuffling socks. Sometimes he would suddenly leap from his chair, hold five socks aloft, and cry, 'A straight flush!'

He used a carpet beater to punish his begats for minor misdemeanors even though our home was devoid of carpet. Impulsive behaviour, even disheartening, but plausible for one whose conditions in early life were occasionally difficult to navigate without collecting hurtful wounds. The floors were cloaked in linoleum which held a diversity of smells: buttermilk, cat urine, dirt from footprints, and the sweaty armpits of a hoary man from Bavaria whom no one in our family had met.

My father, with his vanity on clear display, would insist on reading from his favourite book In Search of Lost Time. After a hundred pages - give or take a leaf - someone would usually chant, hyperventilate, or rush from the room wailing: 'It's not easy being a candle', or something of that nature. A frighting experience for the faint of heart, or, indeed, anyone with a clicking hip joint. Of course, my father would promptly stand up and in an uncomplicated and straightforward manner violently throw Proust to the floor. He would storm out of the room through the nearest window; his voice quivering in his wake, 'No man deserves honest ignominy heaped upon him! Plot is not the point!'

To calm things down someone - usually myself - would simulate a sudden rise in temperature, fall to the floor, pant heavily, and whimper in a colourless voice: 'Malaria.' This act advised all present, in a simple, productive tone, that farewells were in order.

*
Reflections: A growing craze worldwide is knitting and crocheting. My addiction started when I read a copy of Stitch 'n Stitch Again in the dentist waiting room. Then, suddenly, I was knitting until the early hours, then night after night, when I was out with friends, or going to the bathroom. It didn't occur to me that my actions were, in anyway, pathological. I was using terms such as, 'I'm in the Zone,' and 'Pass me some thread, man.'

My life was out of control. I sought help through Knitters Anonymous (KA) - a worldwide fellowship of men who share a desire to stop knitting - and it seems to be working. The only downside is that I used knitting as a calming distraction. However, I'm now making customised underwear for young single and married women and it seems to help me relax.