The memories come flooding back during the imposed isolation of the pandemic — an ever-present narration to the movie that I am producing in my head — so many voices, so much laughter and music, my father and mother, uncles, cousins all clamoring to tell their stories. Hawaiians would call them aumakua, ancestral spirits, and even during normal times I feel them gathering around me every day. Perhaps they know that this time of sequestration is a portal.

I feel them more than hear them, but every now and then I catch a little laughter and perhaps a faint song with my father on guitar and my uncle Stan on piano, and I’m in that friendly crowd when I would go to the parties where I was the only young person in the midst of this jolly carousing family, seen but not heard. Perhaps they’re preparing me to join them and they can’t resist giving me a nudge and whispering a memory in my ear. So I sit in this warm soup of memory, and although I’m alone in my house I’m never lonely, and really never alone.

 My ancestors are singing a song to me. Hawaiians, like my father, would call it a mo’olelo — a song that reaches into the past to celebrate the paths our predecessors took across landscapes and seascapes, carving deep memories into the collective consciousness of their people.

I wonder what this is all about. It is clearly part of both my intellectual and spiritual makeup. During my life I have been an anthropologist, an archaeologist, a documentary filmmaker and a writer. Sometime during this process, a friend called me, simply, a documenter. So it would be normal with all this time on my hands, living in this place of memories created by my great-grandfather where I grew up in the summers, that I would turn my attention to documenting it all. I bend to the task, going through old writings and family histories and books and newspaper clippings to bring them alive.

The process is as revealing about me as it is about my ancestors. There is a kind of saccharin quality to these memories, a romantic wholesomeness that makes me question whether these stories can be true. Some of my friends simply do not believe them. But they are shared by so many in my family — these mo’olelo of parents and aunts and uncles and cousins, all living a life of joy and clannish togetherness.

What if this is all just a romance, I wonder.

Well what if it is. I don’t see the harm in it.

Perhaps it is all just sugary self-deception?

It doesn’t matter. I hear a song that’s good and I have to sing it.

I like the idea of a song that I can sing. It implies a kind of sharing that all songs are about — preserving, a striving toward immortality in a time of death.

Sam Low lives in Oak Bluffs and is establishing the Harthaven archives.