In small, odd things, memories live on


No piping plovers at the dunes, but I checked out Moonstone Beach and a single sandpiper came from the shoreline to greet me.  

Another day – a foggy/misty morn – as I strolled from the towers to the oblong where the Narrow River pours into Narragansett Bay, I found a solitary waterfowl, an avocet I think, short but with a long curved beak and heron-like legs. Perhaps it was a Stilt. It made up for my disappointment in not coming across cliff swallows or arctic terns.

I thought of the lyrics to a French song I heard on the radio in Paris in 1953! I believe it was sung by Sartre’s muse Juliette Greco. I translate it as, “Alone on the earth, take it in for what it’s worth.”

So here goes: I like little mementos to keep my past from vanishing into the void. So I shop at Hallmark and collect wee ceramic models based on early Disney kid stuff.  I bought – not without a little hesitation – a butterfly with American flags as wings. I keep it on the mantel of the iron stove in the parlor of our South County summer retreat. I opted for this from among such choices as a cute Bambi and a baby Dumbo with his giant pachyderm mama because I can’t figure out the patriotic symbolism of a summer insect. I admire things I don’t fully grasp.

Our granddaughters paid us a call and the eldest, 9-year-old Floie, dragged me by the wrist to a dead-end street to confront … a pirate ship! Sure enough, strangely, there was, indeed, a black seacraft with ebony sails, a Jolly Roger flag with its skull and crossbones, and a golden mermaid as the figurehead. It was huge! And moored at the harbor on Harcourt Avenue. 

How did it get there? Who made it, and why? Flo’s sisters pooh-poohed it a bit, claiming disdainfully, “It’s made of cardboard!” Indeed, the hull was seaworthy but the details and decorations were paper. 

I had absolutely no idea who created this huge toy right up my alley, such a surprise! 

“Shh, don’t tell your parents, let’s keep this our secret, at least for a day,” I told them, although I don’t know why. The snapshots are as dark and dim as my facts here.

Now, I have more somewhat-eccentric reports to file. 

I came across a worn-out 1960 Dunes Club towel soaked with saltwater in a moon-high tide on a long-gone August day, and took it home in my canoe.  I have now taken it, frayed and threadbare, to a fancy framer. I hope to hide my unusual masterpiece in a mostly forgotten corner wall in the loft, but laying eyes on it will bring back memories of summer to battle the amnesia of time. 

As I take my morning, or late afternoon, splash along the wet edge of the sea, I think of young people of long ago, or friends or relatives who have passed away, and I bring them back into my memory. It’s almost an obsession, or a belief that souls watch over us, or judge us, or miss us as we miss them. I know it’s nonsense, but then, I am nonsense as well.

Sometimes someone whose name I don’t even know will greet me and keep me company during these meanderings and wanderings. I don’t walk fast, no, no, no, I slow down, I don’t exercise.

I also pay a few visits to my allies of August. I bike or hike, or drive my Fiat and park in the driveway, to pop in on Rose Epstein. This fine lady, a writer, a great-grandmother, and a sponsor, some Augusts ago, of a local circus, makes me a cup of coffee – in a floral ceramic cup, with a saucer and a spoon - and tells me about her life both long ago and current. 

“I was named for a grandfather that my mom disliked, hated in fact. So I asked her  once why she honored her foe and translated his name into mine. She gave me an astonishing answer. She said, ‘Everybody deserves to be remembered’!”

I thanked her most sincerely for that lesson and for her genuine hospitality as we sat before the picture window and watched the kayaks going by peacefully and the Canada geese and swans floating or cruising along. I thought: “Take everything in stride and for its value.” I can’t write biographies, it gets me in trouble.  All I can do is offer this account of my own quests.

MIKE FINK ( teaches at the R.I. School of Design.