ream the medicine cabinet, fill penny rolls for the coffee exchange, throw out old prescriptions and that old slide rule, already obsolete, then it’s off to the office supply store for carbon paper and metal bookends, return editions and LPs to the public library before the art stack goes to my ex-wife’s aunt where I’ll hear how her latest opening went screwy . back home, have a beer, phone my lover, take a call from the watch repairman warning if I don’t pick up her metronome they’ll sell it off, so once more out I go, how ’bout you?
thinking the cleaner bag full I discovered the rubber drive belt had snapped meaning a trip to the shop and the next day was Sunday as she had left it all the same, dust and sweep, wet mop, and rinse, move tall stacks about, sort items but what if we don’t? refill the trash can, love, after all, would expose this . honestly I won’t quit so simply whatever past is mine . pay dearly, of course, for these revelations. so make room for more labor . brush and chop, returning to the same spot rather than scurry onward
at last, reducing the list drawn into this homestead with the ash of that upbeat tone of previous years, a forced smile, wishful thinking, or pure resolve no longer the Yule Letter, high school classmates, even college . ashram . Binghamton or teachers . other writers . Iowa. Western Reserve . Baltimore . former loves . Old Order elders . what do these people mean now in context? So, sincerely
This time of the year typically involves reflecting on the past. Part of it stems, of course, from facing a New Year and looking ahead, as well as the news from distant friends in their Christmas and Chanukah cards. Part of it also arises as we hunker down in the long nights around the solstice. It’s more than just looking back over the previous 12 months to get a sense of what we what or need to do next. Sometimes, it reaches back much farther. Or what we’ve lost.
Back on November 4, I blogged on “Returning to high school and its misery” and so much emotional baggage I thought I’d left behind 57 years ago. That post was the first time I could honestly admit that the period was essentially miserable for me – until now, I had maintained walls of denial. My elder daughter, hearing of this, was incredulous. Seems everybody her age and younger knows those years are supposed to be miserable. Eradicate any indoctrination of they’re being “the best years of your life,” unless you’ve truly been stunted.
As that post related, a recently renewed connection has led to some much deeper conversation and awareness than we ever had back then. In addition, it’s opened paths to others and glimpses into how their lives have unfolded over the decades.
Some manifest the life I’d expected to follow – should I say fulfill? – after graduation from college and returning to my hometown. Instead, my career took me in a much different and likely rockier direction. One path would have deepened friendships over the years. The other kept leaving new friendships behind in the sunset, rarely by conscious decision but rather by the practical demands of resettling in a new location.
I’ve been counseled that emotions are real and don’t die or just go away. When they’re buried, they operate out of sight, insidiously, sometimes undermining what’s happening on the surface. As I discussed some of what I’ve been experiencing in revisiting the past, my wife observed that it sounded like these are happening now, rather than back-then. She had never heard my desire to return to my hometown, almost as a mission, but rather insisted that I could wait to break loose and run away. Acknowledging that the doors to any return had closed behind me was difficult, but that’s what’s occurring as the feelings come to full light. This time, there’s no denial of being hurt or feeling reject, no suppression of the sense of failure or hurt or that as they open, however belatedly, even slow me at the moment. What’s important is just sitting with them and being honest as another step in psychological health and wisdom. There’s energy in them, once I claim them. Let me say it’s something like having bass and alto harmonies running in music. Or solving a cold-case murder or heist and seeking justice.
One photo I chanced across cut hard. The caption named someone who looked nothing like she did back then, and it hinted at difficulties. I followed it to another, of the beauty I remembered in her youth. Quite simply, I’d had a big crush on her, though she was older and, in many ways, out of my league but sometimes in a big sister sort of way. Still, the last time we had been together ended badly, or maybe off-key, from my side, at least. At the minimum, I should have phoned her afterward, no matter if it was a very difficult summer for me.
What I’m discovering now is that our lives wound up in surprisingly parallel directions, though I’m also acknowledging that no one could have accompanied me on all of the relocations I’ve made, many of them shaped by closed doors as well as openings, most of them through my years in lower-level newspaper management. What I keep finding is that the deeper thread of that zig-zag journey, with addresses in nine states, has been spiritual growth. Yes, there I was, trying to move up in a shrinking business field. Ultimately, by stepping down and earning a union card, I made it to retirement.
For now, I’m hoping she replies to my overtures, but there’s no telling whether she’s even looking at her email or Facebook these days, much less responding. There are so many questions I want to ask and details and perspectives I want to hear. And parts I want to apologize for, as well as others I wish to celebrate.
My previous post included memes from the Disillusioned Bell-Ette, an outrageously funny FB page that also blew open some of the cover I’ve been working through.
Here are a few more.
I love mountains and have, after all, lived close to the Cascade Range in Washington state and the White Mountains of New Hampshire as well as in the Poconos in Pennsylvania and the Allegany foothills of Upstate New York. Much of Downeast Maine even fits the terrain. What makes this one so funny is that the three Bell-Ettes have ventured so far from the generally flat landscape of our high school, which sat very close to the highest point in the city. Nothing like this, though. So much for the first inside joke. Add to that the directions for pizza and chocolate candy. Clifton Gorge had been a largely unknown canyon with the Little Miami River running over a waterfall that was out of reach and nearly out of sight. Now it’s better known as part of a public park, and what had been a big cliff for me is now dwarfed by the bluffs along the Atlantic around here. As for being headed in the right direction? Mine was always away.
One streak of the Disillusioned Bell-Ette postings had them going abroad in search of Enlightenment. That is, far from our high school and hometown. And here I thought I’d been the only Bison to wind up in an ashram? Not all of their encounters had them meeting gurus or holy men.
With its broad streets, Kyoto could have been the downtown of our modernized home city, except for the lettering and the mountain at the end of the street. And we never would have imagined sushi. Some of us have come far over the years.
Underground public transit was another of those things that were far from us. Cincinnati, the metropolis to our south, almost had a subway, and that’s a fascinating story all its own. But considering the extent to which I fell in love with subways (yes, love does seem a strange word in this context) and even wrote a novel about the wonders, real and imagined, I was delighted to see the Bell-Ettes following up in, err, my tracks.
More to the point, I’m more fully realizing the downsides and hidden costs of what’s been an incredible life, even with its many near misses when it came to making the big time. Or maybe because I hadn’t been sucked upward in those opportunities.
still wondering why I’m amazed what one discovers in each move, why, unpacking is almost like Christmas, even the delights of discovering the workings of another’s mind, like Evelyn’s neat way of wrapping electrical cords to appliances (Mennonite heritage appears in curious ways) moving forward, rather than sideways or backwards on ice, your friend who made it thus far and nothing much broke
still owe you that tango but don’t know if you were a better cartoonist than editor or publisher all we have is that moment of dancing between the line we’ve drawn on the beach defying the tide where we swim more freely than birds in flight, then before the last note Zippers
guys generally do the old zip in, zip out, knowing what we want before setting forth, grab only that, where most women look and look and look maybe even find a great bargain so the rare day I actually enjoyed being waited on, asking questions, getting directions from clerks who sensed they weren’t even going to get any income from me but what the heck, gave them something to do and someday I might even be back even though I didn’t find that much of what I was looking for who knows . authentic India incense (sweeter, more potent than the others), so it’s grins
losing everything would have been a disaster (fire, the author’s deep fear, can engulf a building in five minutes – thirteen, we counted) and then once outside, realizing smoke in a neighboring apartment was turning to flames within the building no explanation why the threat of losing my worldly goods didn’t upset me as much as the basic ineptitude that causes delays like that to happen goodbye, manuscripts, notebooks, early drafts, letters, addresses . a writer’s constant fear against the slow art itself, you know, civilly
the summer I thought we’d vacation out West we instead moved there to a new workplace just as I’ve dreamed the parking brake won’t hold the car in place some things don’t change that much and once again, there goes our hard-earned cushion, this time, six steps later, it’s New England and a more faithful spouse, all the same, just as we paid off the barn-repair loan, I was mistaken to think I saw the end coming
School teachers in the classroom aren’t the only instructors I’ve had in life. Some have definitely been mentors, others more guides, even in passing, and then there were crucial colleagues.
Here’s a sampling:
- Scoutmaster Bob: He loved nature with a childlike awe while insisting on the Old Way when it came to camping and hiking. The lessons made me far more independent in the coming years.
- Joel: An ambitious youth pastor who made room for a lost adolescent. I learned a lot about politics from him.
- Gene and Doris: A girlfriend’s parents who raised my vision beyond my side of town and its status in life.
- Marcy: Ace photojournalist who heightened my appreciation of masterful image and its graphic arts presentation. Her photos had a distinct style. And eventually she won a Pulitzer.
- Kurt: Two Buckeyes discovering the wonders of the Cascades at the same time. He had his own way with a camera, too, as well as an editor.
- Howard and Myrtle: Opened the Bible to me in a personal way.
- Bill and Fran: They helped me bridge my intellectual world with the Wilburite Quaker tradition.
- Bob and Ruby: The central Mennonites in my theological and choral music expansion in my Baltimore years.
- Jack and Sarah: Originals in more ways than one, in their leap from tenured university positions to Old Order dairy farmers. Her gentle touch as an elder touch was a blessing in a difficult personal time.
- Paul: The other Quaker in my mostly Mennonite circle and a fine musician, to boot. We were two bachelors trying to navigate a social scene safely.