Dust and shadow


I remember when my great grandmother died. She was 86, and died in 1986 in the same room she was born in the house that used to be her family’s. This house stands in the Main Square of Sopron, and has been in the possession of that part of the family for a century -until they lost it after WWI. It was partitioned into apartments, and some of these were bought by family members. (This happens when well-off families get poor I guess.)

I’m talking about all this because of context. The context being the dinner after the funeral. I was a kid back then, and while I was very sorry that my great grandmother died (I knew her, and loved her), I guess I did not actually process what it meant; I was nine, after all. For me it was a big, interesting party filled with relatives whom I did not get to meet a lot, and lots of sad-sweet memories. I was happily reading Karl May by an ancient tile stove in the guest room, or talking to all those exciting adults, and older cousins twice removed. (Two sisters, who lived in the neighbouring apartments really loved me, and played with me a lot; I guess they treated me like a little brother, while I looked at them as older sisters.)

Fast forward to yesterday. My grandmother (whose mother was my great grandmother I’ve just talked about) has recently passed away, and in the family group on facebook my mother’s cousin uploaded a lot of photos of my grandmother from her childhood. I realized there’s a lot of other photos from that side of the family online, and found the ones taken after the funeral of my grandmother’s sister-in-law, from 2012. She lived in the same apartment; her family moved in after my great-grandmother has passed away. I used to spend an awful lot of time with her, because I went to a boarding school in Sopron, and she was a really sweet lady (and also my godmother)

What was striking was the similarity of the photos to what I remembered from twenty six years earlier. Sad but smiling adults, and kids goofing around in the very same rooms, by the very same tile stove, the very same bookshelves, and even the very same books. It was uncanny. Things don’t change; only the people were different (or older). The old house, the old wooden door, the worn-out steps have seen the births and wakes of my god-mother, my great-grandmother, her mother, and all the way back the centuries. These steps have been hollowed out by generations stepping on them; myself included. The house had the same pleasant wine cellar-smell, the smell of things that have not changed in centuries. People come and go, but that place has stayed relatively unchanged. This is both a comforting and a frightening thought at the same time. I still remember when I was a very young child running around the house and on the streets of Sopron; I remember when I was a high school student there. (The building of the school is similarly old and heavy with memories -it has been a school for the last two hundred or so years.) The place serves as a reminder that while the things we build might stand for a long time, we are there only temporarily. My grandmother grew up in that building, she went back as a young woman to visit from the capital, she kept going back as she got older to take care of her mother every weekend, and now she’s gone; yet the building stands. As a child you feel like, and assume that things are static; that people are always there, and they always have been, and always will be. Now as an adult I experienced that things do change; that time passes by really fast. People have left this world, and people have come into this world; nothing remains the same. There used to be a lot of people that tied me to that place; they were the reason for me to visit. Now it’s increasingly only memories that tie me there, as most of these people have either left or passed away; and I visit only for these memories. As we get older we lose more and more of our ties to this world until we ourselves become memories. And this is not a pleasant thought.



1 comment
  1. I agree totally time goes sooooo fast as you age. I don’t know whether it’s because we take less in due to the actual aging process or because unconsciously we feel the tick of what time we have left (and things to experience) is diminishing quickly.

    The pace of life is different now too, and I bet each generation has said that! But I do feel we had more time to “just goof off” and sit under a tree at the river than my kids do today. The electronically immersive focus and instant media has taken a little away from the joy of taking in experiences I feel …. And of course I’m now going to have to have a shifty through our old family photo collection!


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