As you get older, your experiences… the paths you’ve walked in life… all you know and have become (and what or who made you that way) rest in your memories.
They sleep… but they’re there, yes, they are, and sometimes they’re lively and churn around. A sound, a smell, a picture; some minor thing shakes that memory, and it comes awake so vividly you’re compelled to contemplate it, to turn it over in your mind and view from all sides.
One instance of this for me happens with a song from 1968, Those Were the Days.
Why that song?
It and a few others mark the last good period of my childhood (there were highs and lows in my teen years, but not a sustained time when all was good).
1968 through 1969 seemed golden. One of those spans from youth, now seen through the lens of decades, you wish had never ended. And I look through that perfectly framed window of time and remember a carefree young boy.
Those Were the Days by Mary Hopkin, and In the Year 2525 by Zager & Evans played in a regular rotation every weekday morning. They finished about the time we (my mother and me) would stop at the Wag-A-Bag where I’d get a barbecue pork sandwich (on a bun) and pop it into the cooking oven and then add to my lunch bag for school. Other days and the timing different would give me Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells. And a fresh donut at the Lone Star Bakery where they’d let me hook mine straight out of the fryer.
A nickel would buy one of those plastic jumping frogs (with its tiny bladder underneath and a squeeze bulb to make it jump). I’d have it tear through my squads of plastic soldiers. My monster movie scene right from the matinees I’d see some Saturdays at the Sterling Theater. Even the bazooka guys could not kill the beast.
At the Dairy Queen, I could get a Frito Pie (chili on top of Frito corn chips) for $0.35. With a dime, I’d play songs on the jukebox—the first of the three, my favorite Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival—while I ate.
About the middle of the middle-class—we weren’t poor (that came later)—my parents didn’t have a lot of money. But there was enough and just enough love to make a young boy happy. It was a good time and all I knew. The last good days before things—family environment and circumstances—turned bad. A bad moon that didn’t set until I was on my own, almost a decade later, at 18 and moved far away and the past had passed.
And my life turned out better than I ever thought it would.
Sometimes, with the ‘busyness’ of life and all the distractions, time races by. It happens in a blink, and we wonder where did it go. I’m a writer, and the characters and events—whether fictional or real—I work with almost daily, keep me attuned to their flow of time. And it makes me conscious of mine. So, I pause—usually early mornings with fresh coffee and music—and reflect on what’s gone before and what’s coming. My idyll doesn’t last—there’s a time to ‘think’ and a time to ‘do’—the management and decisions of things work their way in to interrupt. But before it passes, I pause and give thanks. Especially here in April 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic changing our way of life, threatening lives, and taking others.
As I get closer to old age (and I’ve turned 60, so that last stage, the homestretch—the back third—is coming on), I look back through all of what’s happened. The pain and joy that made and makes a well-lived life. And instead of that one span as a young kid, I’ve had decades spent with so many and so much that I love. Not just good years… beautiful years. And I think about two of my favorite quotes:
“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” ―Albert Camus
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” ―Dr. Seuss
And if I’m fortunate, three decades or so from now with my last breath… I’ll look at my family and maybe sing a line from a little song—there’s been so many with meaning for me—before I go.