A rose for Emily

Last week I had to say goodbye to my truck. Like any beloved member of a family, my truck had a name (Emily, Emiliana, Emsers, etc, depending on my mood) and a long history. A college graduation gift from my father, she and I have driven everywhere together: ChicagoWisconsin, New Jersey, New York City, and countless trips back and forth to my home in Alabama. She has moved me and my friends. She was the manual transmission that I learned on and the one that I used to teach friends, with varying levels of success. She was a cultural marker of my southern roots, even though her foreign make (Toyota), diminutive size, New Jersey plates, and array of liberal bumper stickers would disallow her from blending in even in that land of pickups. And at the same I loved how she also functioned as my badge of otherness in Princeton, my place of residence but not my home. 

Like me (or how I hoped to be), she went wherever she pleased always confident in her own skin.

Her passing, like most, was both expected and yet completely surprising. She was well into middle age when I was given her in 1999; when I said goodbye, she was over 20 years old. During our time together, she had watched the comings and goings of several siblings – a Chevy, a Prius, a Subaru – but she was always my favorite. Years of living in snowy, salty climates of the north had surely taken their toll, but I had never had any major problems with her. Her steadfast reliability and omnipresence in my life for almost fifteen years lulled me into not thinking too hard about the future at all. The way we live life – day by day, moment by moment – encourages this feeling of stasis, until we are jolted into the realization that years have passed, even decades. Youth is in perpetual bloom in the mind’s eye, and sometimes it takes an objective outsider (or sober call from the mechanic) to convince us otherwise.

Before I became a librarian I began training as a historian. The core principle of that profession is that things – everything – changes with time. Sometimes this change is sudden and dramatic, while at other times the subtle movement is discernible only in hindsight. But change always happens. Maybe because of my love of history, I have always been drawn to stories that foreground this theme. Here are three that I would recommend.

  • The Oxford Project: When photographer Peter Feldstein lived in the tiny town of Oxford, Iowa, in 1984 he photographed 200 of the town’s residents. Two decades later, he revisited the town, tracked down as many residents as he could find to photograph them again and interview them about how their lives had changed in the interimThough it looks like a simple, if stunning, coffee-table art book, Feldstein’s photographs has grander ambitions, asking if twenty years of life history can be inferred simply from a portrait.
  • Before SunriseBefore SunsetBefore Midnight: An examination of attraction, love, and relationships spanning 18 years, this trio of films from director Richard Linklater and starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, is a must see. The first film focuses on a few hours in the lives of two people who meet serendipitously. Will they get together? Will they stay together? And would a relationship crush the effervescent joy they shared upon first meeting or allow it to grow? The remaining films (the most recent, Before Midnight, has yet to be released in the Princeton area) check in with these two at nine year intervals to examine these questions in one of the most beautiful and honest depictions of a relationship that I’ve seen.
  • The Up Series: One of my favorite pieces of art of all time, this documentary series began with 7 Up, interviews with fifteen 7 year-olds from various classes in 1964 Britain. Every seven years since, the same director checks back with these children as they grown and experience the full range of life’s joys and tumults. Real reality programming, this series, especially when watched a second time when one has an inkling how their lives will turn out, serves as a reminder of how life, though rarely taking the path that we expect, can reveal unexpected joys at least as often as unseen challenges. The most recent film in the series, 56 Up, will be premiering on PBS this fall.

??I plan on seeking solace this week in movies and books like this which remind us that life is always in flux – things come and things go, as Pete the Cat might say – but still I will miss my truck. So, with apologies to Faulkner, here is my rose of remembrance to my Emily, my truck. Thanks for everything, Emsers. You will be missed and you will be remembered.

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