Monday, September 7, 2015

The Summer Had Inhaled and Held Its Breath Too Long

Leave it to the unofficial closing of another summer to make me nostalgic, bordering on maudlin. Technically, I'm enjoying my 63rd Labor Day, though in truth, I have no memory of the earliest ones and I've yet to get a clear sense, despite a reasonable amount of reading, on how old we are before we have memories. 

Is that true for you as well? I'll suddenly flash on something from my childhood and not be altogether sure if it's real, or a remembered clip from a movie--my Mom's youngest brother, Paul, when we visited her parents in Elechester out in Flushing, Long Island, (before the World's Fair and Shea Stadium), always calling me 'droopy drawers' and pulling down my trousers and laughing. I can recall being a small child helpless to prevent this and enraged at my own impotence (though not realising that at the time that's what I felt). 

Growing up, I always heard relatives say I looked like Paul, which made me tighten my jaw and hold on to my pants. I think they said that because we both had freckles and lots of them. I know my coloring made burn up in the sun as, after twenty minutes without sunscreen, 

I looked like a lobster and when the burn finally faded, I wasn't tanning but peeling. At times later in our lives my sister Kara reminded me of Paul, especially when she laughed which is a little odd because by the time she was born, Paul and his family were living out on the west coast and rarely came east. 

I flash forward to that same uncle in the back seat of my car, with my father's step-brother, Father Jim (an actual priest) in the shotgun seat, as we rode to the cemetery in East Millstone, NJ, to bury my father. I think that may have been the last time Paul came east as some years later he was diagnosed with I-no-longer-remember-what from which he died. 

I was in Germany, in the era before cheap long distance phone calls and Internet so letters and cards were the bridge from home and I learned we only read you when you write and no one likes to write bad news when it's still news, so I learned of his death months, if not longer, after it had happened. 

When I was a kid, we hadn't yet gone back to school, that happened after Labor Day and when the New Year began, I'd always look ahead on the calendar to see when the first Monday in September was, always hoping for the 5th or 6th, as if wishing would make it so. 

This year, if the schools were opening that way, a lot of kids' parents would be deeply bummed and the kids wouldn't understand why. Thank goodness we now structure school calendars by union agreements and not on any educational goals, requirements or needs.

I've never attended my high school or college reunion--one of the places I worked for some years used to hold worldwide reunions every two years, in different locations around the globe and I never worked up the interest or the passion, or, in all honesty, the courage, to attend any of them. 

I have a growing-more-dim-by-the-day memory of being one of 400,000 at Watkins Glen in upstate New York for the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers and The Band, but all three of these bands are long gone with members dead and the souvenir tee shirt "Ball 'n' Boogie" went from the dresser to the rag bin to the garbage decades ago. 

My cohort grew up in the swamps of Vietnam and in the aftermath of the murder of JFK, MLK and RFK. We survived Timothy Leary better than he himself did, had parents who didn't understand us (until we became them as it turned out) and stayed up late to watch a man walk on the moon. 

We were part of what sociologists call the Pig in the Python generation and yet, I suspect when the last of us has passed (and we will, which, when we were kids, was inconceivable) we'll have left a hole akin to the one in a bucket of water when you pull your fist out. 

And it'll be our children's children who wrestle with the consequences of our decisions on the environment, on energy, on public financing and world-wide diplomatic outreaches and these days, as hard as we think they are, will be viewed as the Golden Ones as they "hang round 'neath the vapor light.
-bill kenny

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