Communion Of Dreams


I never really ‘got’ that. Until now.

The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.

William Faulkner.

I’ve read my share of Faulkner, as appropriate for someone getting through a high school English class in the 1970s. And then I read a lot more in graduate school. Always loved his use of language, but I never really ‘got’ that quote, though it nicely sums up one of the major themes of his writing. Partly, this was just being young. Partly it was because of a conscious effort on my part to forget some of the worst aspects of my own personal history.

Oh, sure, I understood how the past shapes the future. In fact, that was a big part of my interest in both economics (one of my college degrees) and the SCA – knowing history allows you to understand how things develop in the ways they have, and can provide analogs which can be useful to understanding new situations when they arise. (That is discussed explicitly in Communion of Dreams, in relation to the the industrial archaeologist brought onto the research team.) But for me, the past has always been the past: dead, immutable.

Until now.

* * * * * * *

As mentioned previously, we’re in the process of dividing up Martha Sr’s estate. This includes the household items. When someone has lived in one house, and raised a family there, for over 50 years, lots and lots of stuff accumulates. In an effort to be completely fair and above board, we’ve had assessors in to evaluate the furniture and household items, so that each family member involved can be sure that they get their share. This coming weekend my wife and her siblings are going to go through and divvy everything up. Then over the coming weeks stuff will get moved out and we’ll deal with whatever no one wanted. Eventually, only those things which are ours will remain, and my wife and I can proceed to actually getting settled here.

Because when we sold our house and moved in here to care for Martha Sr, we wanted to disrupt her home environment as little as possible. We wedged ourselves into rooms which she didn’t use much, put a lot of stuff into storage. It was a pain, but one we were willing to put up with while we cared for her.

Now, of course, I am looking forward to actually getting settled. As I told a friend recently:

It was frustrating to be shoe-horned in here the last six years, but I was willing to put up with it for Martha Sr’s sake. As I have been recovering from the care-giving, I have been wanting more and more to feel less and less cramped up here – I can only put up with this level of chaos and annoyance for so long.

But of course it is a little different for my wife, who now sees her childhood home being split up, her memories associated with this or that piece of furniture bereft of a physical connection.

* * * * * * *

I never met my father in law. He died before my wife and I got together. But he was something of a local character, and over the years here I have had many people tell me anecdotes about him. Seems most people either loved him or hated him. He evidently carried on a number of long-term feuds.

One such was with a local builder, who is now the executor of a family trust which owns the property next to us (part of a large tract in our neighborhood which has caused some grief for people here). For various legal reasons (limitations on the trust), this property has always been undeveloped. But now those reasons are being resolved. And it turns out that what we thought for some 50 years is part of our property is actually part of the trust. This includes a substantial strip of our lawn and even a chunk of my garden, about half of the fenced in area I created for my dog, and a substantial number of huge trees. My wife’s family has maintained and used the strip of property for that entire time.

So for the better part of the last year we’ve been involved in some legal wrangling to settle this issue. Because, you know, the matter couldn’t be settled simply, due to the aforementioned feud. And yesterday things came to a bit of a head, as the son of the executor came onto our property to ‘do some maintenance’.

I had words with him.

OK, let’s recap: I, who never met my father-in-law, had a potentially dangerous confrontation with the son of a man who had a feud with my FIL.

Given my current attempts to recover from prolonged and excess stress, this could have gotten stupid very quickly. And I spent a lot of time afterwards carefully considering the situation. And somewhere in there last night I realized that I finally understood just exactly what Faulkner meant. Now I know why border disputes and blood feuds are carried on for generations, pulling people in who otherwise would react in more sane and rational ways. Because, without desire or intent on my part, I am in the middle of exactly one such episode of history intruding on the present.

This is insane.

* * * * * * *

My wife and I discussed the matter at some length last night, once I had stepped back from the adrenaline stew that had me jumped up. Our attorney will seek a restraining order on the other parties to prevent them from doing anything to the disputed strip of property until the matter is resolved in court – to just keep things ‘status quo’. I have asked for specific instructions from our attorney about what I should do in the event that we have a recurrence – ignore it, call the cops, confront them, what?

But beyond that, I have decided that I am going to try and disentangle myself from this historical mess. I just want a resolution to the matter, and of the feud, so I can get on with my life. But I cannot make that resolution – this is a problem for others to sort out; their problem, not mine. Because I finally ‘got’ what Faulkner meant, and understand that unless I disentangle myself I am likely to contribute to a perpetuation of this feud, damaging my own sanity and soul in the process.

Jim Downey


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