Memories 1



Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind

Memories, sweetened through the ages just like wine

Quiet thoughts come floating down

And settle softly to the ground

Like golden autumn leaves around my feet

I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories,

Sweet memories

—Scott Davis

Memories 2It is 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning as I begin this, and my wife lies comfortably asleep. Truth to tell, I’ve only just arisen myself. It’s the dream that drove me in here. And my birthday.

This particular birthday is really just another. I’m at an age now where the only birthdays that merit attention are the milestone birthdays, the decades as they go tumbling by, but even those are beginning to appear with appalling frequency. Still, I’ve two more years before the advent of the Biblical three score and ten, an event that especially stands out in my mind because my father had such a difficult time with it when he became that age. He was the most tenacious man I ever knew, but time defeated him. He was always hale and hearty and incredibly vigorous for one his age, as the saying goes. But when he turned 70 this most active man began to shuffle like the old man he now believed himself to be, and he did that, moving ever more slowly, until he left this vale of tears at age 78.

My mother was 12 years younger, but from the beginning she vowed that she was NOT going to be an old woman, and although the calendar eventually declared that she really was older now, she never once acted that way. She was not one of those fools who continue dressing like a twenty-something. Really, she was like Raquel Welch, who has also reached “a certain age.” Welch came to fame as a bombshell, but no longer dresses the part because aged bombshells are rather pathetic. Instead, she carries herself with a lot of dignity and grace, and dresses well. Mother was like that, not that gorgeous, but wise enough to surrender gracefully to the inevitability of aging. The main thing, though, was that she never once shuffled. Really, all that ever slowed her in those last months was the cancer that eventually killed her at age 78. The difference between the old ages of my parents was stark and a vivid lesson to me. You are only as old as you feel you are

But I began this by saying that it was the dream that drove me in here on a day when I really intended to take full advantage of the Sunday and sleep in. I dreamt I was talking to an older half-sister and telling her that I’d been thinking about Helena, Montana where I grew up and how much I missed my boyhood friends and the place itself. Diane said something to the effect that I could go back whenever I want. And, indeed, some five years ago my younger brother and I (there’s just 17 months between us) went to Helena for a family reunion. It’s a huge extended family, and several hundred turned out for the event. We told them all that we would do some things with the group, but a lot more things on our own because we wanted to poke around in Helena for a few days, sharing our home town with our wives and his son. It’s not there anymore.

Memories 3The house where we spent our formative years is still there, and we were naturally amused to see how truly small that front yard was, site of football games, our own version of kickball and myriad other games and memories. The backyard is now completely filled with a modern two-car garage. They made room for the new by demolishing the old one-car garage that I “helped” my father build when I was five years old. I have a vivid memory of Dad and a male friend demolishing an old building in that backyard. For all I know, given that the house itself was built in the 1880s, it was a carriage house! But when the site was cleared, Dad went to work on the new structure, and this time he worked alone. I still remember when he raised the rafters he’d made, pulling them into place with a rope, his arms trembling from the exertion.

It was the first time I’d ever been around the wonders of construction, and it possessed me from the very beginning. Despite my tender age, I would sit there all day long watching the Old Man so I could occasionally bring him a tool. In those days, of course, it was all hand tools, and the ones I remember most often bringing him were his framing square and his combination square, words too long for a five-year-old, so Dad quickly went to calling them the big square and the little square. His framing square is long gone, but I still have two of his wood planes and the combination square (little square, for those who don’t know which is which) has long been in my own tool tote, along with another of his hand tools, an old screwdriver I use as a utility tool.

The old Marlow Theater (I once wrote about it in “Popcorn Palaces”) is long gone, but really, so is most of the city. Helena is still there and is actually quite a bit bigger than it was when we grew up there, but very little of the city is now as it was then. And even those parts that are alike really aren’t. None of my childhood friends are there. Oh, there might still be one or two who still lives in the city, and I do actually have a number of first cousins who still live in Montana. But none of that is the same. They’re much older, with children and grand children who are considerably older than we were when we were still making forts from cardboard boxes we got from behind the furniture stores.

The National Forest. Elderly couple (model released) walking along an avenue of beech trees {Fagus sylvatica} among fallen leaves. Autumn colour. Beacon Hill Country Park, Leicestershire, UK. November 2010.And that was what we discussed in that dream last night—well early this morning, really. It was my last dream, one so vivid that it woke me up and drove me to this keyboard, which, ironically enough, is also much changed from that long-ago land I wanted to return to in my dream. I still remember going to my father’s desk in Helena and trying to teach myself how to type on his old manual Underwood. It didn’t work, of course, but I eventually took a high school typing class, and at that time we learned on manuals. That is one item for which I have no nostalgia whatsoever. The biggest difficulty was learning how to pace one’s typing so the keys swung up one after another, but not before the previous key had had a chance to drop back out of the way. Whenever one mistimed it, the keys stuck together. I truthfully never typed faster than 40 words per minute on those damned things!

But to return to the dream and the thought that pulled me out of a warm bed and into this study, Diane was assuring me that I could go back whenever I wanted to. I told her, “You can’t go back because that place no longer exists.” And it really doesn’t. I read once that you can never step into the same river twice, not even if you stand on the same rock and step in the same place and do so almost immediately after you just got out. The flowing water makes that an impossibility. The water you stepped into five minutes earlier is now far downstream, and the water that wets you now was new to another upstream who also finds it impossible to step into the same water. Time moves just as inexorably. Moments lost are lost forever. We think we can goof off half a day and then make it up by working faster for what remains of the day, but, in a larger and more profound sense we really cannot. Time wasted is forever gone. And working twice as hard does not retrieve it, a fact I find myself becoming increasingly cognizant of as the leaves of my own calendar begin to fall with such rapidity.


3 Responses to ““Memories””

  • James Dibben says:

    I love the river analogy Joseph!

    The river in my life seems to be speeding up the older I get. It’s sobering!

  • Joe Freenor says:

    Time is relative. Two days to a six-year-old waiting for Christmas is an eternity. Two days to an adult with a deadline often flashes by in a heartbeat.

  • James Dibben says:

    How true that is!

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