This post originated as a column in the weekly series, “Denim Spirit” published by The Finger Lakes Times (NY): http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-tipping-the-outhouse/article_4c806cf3-23bd-56d4-a6a8-27b11639e1f6.html
Here it comes again, a new year.
Flipping the darn page seems to gain speed every month. We are now walking the plank of 2017 and about to fall headlong into the ocean of 2018. My adult children keep asking me about 1968, which causes me to rub my bald head and collapse the pile of fifty years in order to squint through the haze. Goodness, 1968 was fifty years ago!
Who invented this time and aging thing? I’m going to have to call for a re-run pretty soon.
I used to ask my dad, who lived to be ninety-three, what the biggest changes were as he looked back over his span of years from 1916. He never seemed too interested in pondering that question, except once. He told me there was more wind now than there was when he was a kid. “Wind,” I asked with bewilderment? He confirmed it. He said that there was much more wind these days, more often and with greater velocity than he remembered as a kid. Climate change stuff from an anecdotal perspective.
My children are in their mid-twenties to thirty, and have started to ask me such questions. I am terribly interested in thinking about time and change, but I have also come to realize the difficulty of answering. Thinking back to 1968, for example – the violence, losses, and painful alienation within families and among friends – is neither pleasant nor simple. Memory, if we are honest, is skewed subjectively from our current perspective, and mingled with relationships and emotions we attribute to those moments. My knee-jerk reaction is to answer my children with facts and historical events, but telling stories that describe my experiences may be more honest and complete.
My dad was not much of a story-teller. He was a man of few words. But I was able to get a few of his childhood friends to tell a story or two, and those stories offered much more than cataloging dates and events.
The man who owned the biggest funeral home in town, lived near my dad in the days of their youth. He was a little older than my father, and the neighborhood bully the way my dad told it. But the funeral home director delighted in reporting to me, that one night when he was in the outhouse doing his business, my dad and his pals tipped it over, leaving him exposed on the throne.
Another story, this one from my dad, described a post-high school graduation trip he and his buddies took out west. It would have been around 1934, and they had parked their Plymouth at the edge of some Nebraska cornfield and slept in the car all night. They awoke to a wet foggy morning and the shock of being surrounded by men with shotguns and rifles. It turns out John Dillinger or Pretty Boy Floyd or Blondie Denning, one of those infamous gangsters of the day, had been robbing banks in the area. The local posse thought maybe they were about to capture some famous bad guys.
Maybe I need to tell my kids more personal stories, instead of simply reporting dates and events so permanently imprinted upon Baby-Boomer brains. Hints and wisdom about the best way forward are often discovered in well-told narratives of the past. My New Year’s resolution is to tell my kids more stories.