Day 53: Flames

DSCF1605I’ve been moving office at work this week. It has been challenging, alongside teaching, but has gone better than I expected; I am now installed and connected in a high room with a view. it’s nicer than my old office, I told myself tonight, as I stood by the darkened window. Already, fireworks were fizzing and spluttering in the sky. I had forgotten it was Bonfire Night.

I drove home slowly, tired and surprised, beneath small explosions and fountains of light. These, I imagined, were from family fires lit for the littlest children as soon as it went dark. They would be the only fireworks I’d see this year I told myself; by the time the big ones started popping I’d be fast asleep.

There are no plans, as far as I know, to celebrate Bonfire Day at Dylan’s care home. I’m guessing that Dylan will not be the only resident who is noise-sensitive and not appreciative of tonight’s events. If he follows his usual pattern, Dylan will look for somewhere the noise can’t disturb him. If he can’t avoid it, he will doubtless assume the ‘noise blocking’ position: right arm clamped across his head, firm against his right ear, with his third finger inside his left ear. Dylan has sometimes spent an entire Bonfire Night in this position.

Needless to say, I haven’t attempted to take him to a bonfire party or firework display for years. It took me a while, however, to realise that this wasn’t a comfortable environment for Dylan. I think there is a tendency, as a parent, to try and reproduce the best of your childhood traditions with your own children. Because I’d found Bonfire Night exciting as a child, and had looked forward to our family celebration, I assumed when Dylan was younger that he would too. It didn’t occur to me, at the time, that this might be painful for Dylan.

I drove home tonight thinking about this and wondering at the continuities and discontinuities in our lives; the way my parents had passed their childhoods on to me and my siblings, and how some of the old ways had continued while others have stopped. It made me feel a bit sad; there was little in my life that was recognisable from my childhood, it seemed. I couldn’t see the connections between any of it.

As I walked past a neighbour’s pumpkin lanterns, left out on the step, I wondered whether Dylan would notice them at the weekend when he comes home. Except, as I had the thought, I realised I had done something my daughter tells me I do when I am very tired: instead of thinking of Dylan by his own name, I had substituted my brother’s. This tendency of mine has been a running joke for years: ‘I’ll just go and get N…’ I’d say sometimes or ‘Have you seen N…?’ My daughter would answer, deadpan and literal, until I realised my mistake.

Tonight, catching myself in the act, I was comforted by the connection I had unconsciously made across generations. And, I reminded myself, Dylan has a long memory and sense of history; being autistic doesn’t mean you can’t keep a fire burning.

12 thoughts on “Day 53: Flames

  1. My partner loathes Bonfire Night. In my family, it was one of the most glorious nights of the year. So all my nostalgia for it has to go into a private box inside my head these days. Promises and compromises. Life is full of them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. i liked this post a lot, Liz. it’s complete with a nice warm photo to go along. I liked the paragraph about continuities/discontinuities best.
    I’m at the end of a particularly trying day. Similar thoughts went through my mind today. I am caring for my elderly parents (in their early 90’s, as you know) and have grown/growing children. Everyone’s needs are so different at the various stages of life. My dad needs more and different care every day. Sometimes my mom is living in the distant past: a time that was very difficult for her and some of her emotions got stuck there. Minutes later I’m all ears for Sophie who is gushing about up-to-the-minute news about her friend-life and other teenage plans, dreams, etc. And not long after seeing my mom, she calls, bringing me back in time again. My head spins. I’m a bridge for now… or a boomerang. I’m not entirely sure.
    On most days, I feel that even a good long life is too short. But sometimes when I feel like I’m tripping through decades I never even lived, the span seems too great. too much. My children will never sense as fully those years preceding me that I am connected to through my family. But, will they feel a similar connection to the years of my life before they were born or am I not as much of a storyteller? Not all stories are good ones and some of the not-so-good ones should stay in the past. I guess we choose the colors of the personal history we paint for them.
    Suddenly, this lyric comes to mind to lighten my mood again as I head to bed,
    “Ah, but I was so much older then
    I’m younger than that now”


    • Nettie, this is so beautiful. I love your reflections here – and I can just see you as that bridge between your mom and your children. But you know for me you have always been this – even when you were 20. I don’t know, I think some people just are continuous people like that. I remember visiting you in your home (I’ve probably told you this before) and you telling me that I would ALWAYS be able to find you there – that you weren’t going anywhere – this was where you would be forever. How continuous is that in terms of connecting us with history? Because place probably comes into this somehow and your closeness to family must be helped by the physical bridge you make just by being there. Maybe one of your children will stake out their own backyard nearby and be there forever, telling the stories they heard from you and your parents. You’re right that we choose the good stories to re-tell, but your reference to your mom finding her memory in a difficult place some days reminds me that our unconscious minds will out us sometimes. Yes, the dis/continuities are the interesting thing. Thank you for reading and for these reflections – have a lovely day, my bridge and boomerang much-missed Nettie, xx


      • Really, I said that? I believe that I did because it sounds like something I would have said, but it’s startling to be reminded of how much I’ve changed my thinking on that. I’m more open to moving on in the future now. Over the years, I’ve seen more bad than good come from staying too firmly rooted. A theme that runs through my head now is that one of the only things we can be certain of is change. So, I recognize it and strive to live peacefully with it. Afterall, it’s what makes us alive!
        Maybe I won’t go far at all but I’m happier thinking of possibilities. I’ll always be connected to my family but one day my family will be an even stronger pull from the generations after mine and I don’t want to be so rooted in the past that it keeps me from living the present – a mindset that I witness, unhappily, and I vow to not let it take hold of me.
        Coming back to reply, I noticed Flames is Day 53 and I am 53 years old ~ I like the connection!
        By the way, your new office space sounds wonderful, so congratulations on movin’ on up to *a high room with a view*. Sophie and I visited someone in their new office location yesterday and it too was a high room with a view. We liked it so much better than the previous low room with no view.
        View is good.


      • You DID say that, yes. The last time I visited. Actually, it may have been as part of the discussion about your changing your clapboard house to plastic-coated 🙂 Remember you had just had that done – pale mushroom colour as I remember – and in Martha’s Vineyard we looked at the houses there and discussed the relative merits of wood/laminated! You said you didn’t want to change colour – and perhaps that’s when you said you would be there forever. But it’s so interesting to me to hear you say you are more open to moving on. A little bit of me is thrown by it – over the years I have thought of you as the one stable thing that I know – that Nettie will always be in the same place, whatever happens. Oh now I will have to get used to the idea of you one day maybe moving! The only thing I can imagine you doing that for, though, is to be closer to your kids (and theirs) 🙂 Well your reference to day 53 being your age has drawn my attention to the fact that today (I am replying to this on Day 54) is my age. I haven’t written a post yet – I wonder what (and if) I shall?! Yes, a room with a view is good – my previous office was sunken – all I could see was legs walking past the window – no sky or clouds or even much light. Hopefully the change will aerate my work!


  3. I used to live in a city which did fireworks at the castle very well, I loved standing under them – especially the exploding dandelions. Now we go over to the next village who put on quite a show in a small field.

    I think each generation of family creates its own traditions, with different stories and family jokes. Me, the Kid and Himself have a lot of banter based on “The Simpsons”. The Kid still talks of the time his Dad made him roll down a hill and he split his head open on a rock – not as dramatic as it sounds!

    When the Kid was small, I was aware that we didn’t do traditional nursery rhymes together, although we did make up our own daft songs. Nor did I do the Old Stories of Beatrix Potter and Winnie the Pooh. It was modern stories I read him every night – including the incessant rhymes of Julia Donaldson. And does he remember those times with fondness and a rosy glow? Nope, he doesn’t remember a damned thing! That’s one of the things about parenting; you have to accept that much of what you do will go unnoticed – you just have to hope that the good stuff becomes embedded in the child.


    • Exploding dandelions! I can picture exactly the firework shapes you mean 🙂 Wonderful. You are right about the generational stories – each new family makes its own myths and whispers. And, yes, memory is selective and idiosyncratic. I have no idea what Dylan remembers but I often find myself saying to him, when we revisit a place or do something we have done before, ‘do you remember Dylan? do you remember this?’ and he echoes back: ‘member, member’. I think he has an extraordinary memory but he can’t tell me so I find this out in the strangest ways 🙂


  4. Pingback: Day 54: An Orange Tick | Living with(out) Autism

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