It can be quite tiresome. Too bad. It’s what we old people do. Unable to expect much in the road ahead, we backward. And we talk about it.

It’s not easy to be us. We reach a certain age and our friends who were part of those terribly interesting incidents a long time ago are dead, so we can’t enlist them. When the urge is strong, we stop people on the street. It’s like door- to-door sales; we have to ring a lot of bells in order to find a bored-housewife-type person who will buy what we’re selling.  Even she has trouble concealing her boredom.

I know all this, but it’s not keeping me from doing it.

I was about three years old when I let slam a screen door, which had a powerful spring. It hit my new kitten and broke its neck. Its convulsions and the burial ceremony following – complete with a cross made of popsicle sticks – was my first experience of death, its unexpectedness, and finality.

Another time, when we were driving the heavily loaded family car away from the home and city where I had lived happily for several years, a friend of my fourteen-year-old brother stood by the driveway sobbing out the loss we were all feeling.

Once, I punched out a kid who was bullying me. I was only in fifth grade, but he came away with a bloody mouth and I with a bloody hand caused by his buck teeth. It must have made me think (mistakenly) that I was tough and that I didn’t have to take any shit off anybody. When I was fifty-one [sic], I had a go at an annoying guy in a Brooklyn park. It took eight days in a hospital trying to get my bleeding stopped.

I’m happy to have connected recently with my old friend Tanner.  Sometime during our almost seventy-year history, we had more or less lost track of each other. But lately, we’ve been getting on the phone and slipping away into the past, telling the same stories over and over, without having some generations-younger pup roll their eyes at the repetition. Most of what we talk about is stuff that will be no loss to anyone when we are gone. This last part of our lives is no less brightened by that.

There was that apartment we and another friend shared. I can’t remember how long we lived there, but it doesn’t matter. The remembrance focusses on a cat that adopted us and a party that included a guest who came home from a convenience store with me when I went to buy more beer. When I observed that her hat was askew, she responded, “’risqué’, honey, I speak French.” That’s not especially funny, is it, but we are still entertained by it.

We disagree about the details of a fraternity hazing incident. In my version, there was a wreck on a country road that resulted in a guy getting his ear lopped off. We were told at the Emergency Room that if we could find it quickly, it could be reattached. The brothers dropped to hands and knees along the yellow line and among the trash along the roadside, but Hondo Green’s dog found the ear first and ate it. Tanner disputes my facts, but I’m sticking with them.

Tanner had already completed two years at the University of Texas, when I was to begin. He gave me a ride to Austin in his 1950 Ford. At some point, he had encouraged me to enroll in an elite liberal arts program called Plan II, and it seemed like a good idea. Soon after we got to Austin, he walked me over to the Main Building and pointed me toward the Regents Room where I was registered by a tweedy professor who would open to me the joy of literature and language. To this day I can hear him reading Keats. Tanner also took me by a sorority house where he had a friend who got me a job waiting tables there. I was self-supporting, and I don’t know how I would have managed without the meals. Most of our stories are trivial and only moderately entertaining, but this one is worth telling over and over.


4 thoughts on “LIVING IN THE PAST

  1. Rosalie Fontana

    How sad for a three year old to lose his kitten that way. Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that painful memories are often sharper and more vividly recalled than happy ones? I suspect that there is some kind of neurochemical activity that accompanies traumatic events that causes these events to be more deeply imprinted on our brains.

  2. Judy Linsley

    Thanks for the memories, Paul (to quote Bob Hope). It is indeed amazing what sticks in our mind–and conversely, what gets lost entirely. It’s also very true that, frustratingly, as the years pass, there’s no one left to share our memories, whether painful or enjoyable. Feel free to keep sharing yours! They usually strike a chord with me.

  3. Mary Jane Wilkie

    Reminds me of one of my favorite poems:


    Four Tao philosophers as cedar waxwings
    chat on a February berrybush
    in sun, and I am one.

    Such merriment and such sobriety—
    the small wild fruit on the tall stalk—
    was this not always my true style?

    Above an elegance of snow, beneath
    a silk-blue sky a brother of four
    birds. Can you mistake us?

    To sun, to feast, and to converse
    and all together—for this I have abandoned
    all my other lives.

    (Robert Francis, from The Orb Weaver)

    1. Carolyn Osborn

      I guess I could use some of my bits of memories in stories, but I forget whether they are memories or I made them up!


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