One of the best gifts life can bestow is memories. Recently I thought of that when I read a letter written by a woman hoping that the 1977 TV mini-series "Roots" would be shown again. That request opened the drawer in my brain marked 1976. On an early spring evening that year I attended a meeting featuring a remarkable storyteller who mesmerized a huge audience for almost three hours. It was Alex Haley, author of the book "Roots" scheduled for release that fall.
We were privileged to hear what inspired the telling of an old tale in book form. Haley told us, “We blacks are a very oral people” as he described the summers he spent from an early age at his grandmother’s home in Henning, TN. She and his aunts told stories handed down verbally from generation to generation as they sat on the front porch in the evenings. One story stayed with him. It always began, “The African, Kin-tay, who was brought to Napli and sold to Mas’ John Waller, plantation owner in Spotsylvania County, VA.”
As an adult Haley became a successful writer and began a seven year, $80,000 journey of research and travel to bring that story to the written page. As Haley neared the end of his talk he transported the audience to a small back country village in Gambia, West Africa. It was there he heard the real beginning of the story as chanted by the griot, keeper of the oral genealogy of the clan.
Translated by Haley in his strong, melodious voice, the griot said, “About the time the king’s soldiers came, the son Kin-tay went to chop wood to make a drum and he was never seen again.” The villagers began chanting and moved to embrace Haley, a long lost brother.
When the book arrived on the market that fall those of us who had heard Haley were not surprised to watch its rapid rise as a best seller. The book was followed by the 8-serial TV adaptation the following year. For young blacks who had never heard stories told by their elders on the front porch, both the book and television series answered many questions. For young whites it restored some gaps in history. I agree with the woman who wrote of her hope that it would be shown again.
Among the many good memories a bad one creeps in once in awhile. That happened last Saturday when a small story appeared in the paper. The headline read “Bedbugs close 2nd clothing store.”
My very personal loathing of that creature began in 1943. As a youngster I had heard my mother and aunts mention bedbugs, always with distaste and associated with uncleanliness.
During WWII, I became a camp follower moving wherever my Air Force husband was stationed. That summer he was ordered to Connecticut for training at Yale University. I met two other wives and we searched for housing we could afford. We found a cottage at Short Beach, CT and moved in. Summer was late that year and we had no heat. To stay warm we decided all three of us would sleep in the double bed. One wife was about to give birth and the other was in her early pregnancy and was sick often. That meant I slept in the middle.
Each morning I awakened with a number of itchy red welts. The three of us finally decided we had better check that mattress carefully. Our worst fears were exposed as we saw tiny bugs scurrying around.
Until the entire place could be exterminated we slept in other places. I was the only one very allergic to the pests but we all worried about our belongings getting infested. Later I traveled by train and again I knew what had attacked me when I felt the itching start and the welts showed up.
That was a memory I hoped to forget but recently there have been stories about hotels finding bedbugs and now this latest incident. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. announced it had closed a second store in New York because of a bedbug infestation in the preppy teen clothing.
Some memories are pleasant, a few unpleasant. Shakespeare wrote, “Memory, the warden of the brain.” Oscar Wilde declared, “Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.” As for me I hope I’ll not forget to remember both bad and good.