30.9.19

Plus ca change...

It's been something of a difficult year for my father: first my mother, then his best friend died.  This was a man who not only gave my father a professional home but also became a good friend to my family.  Early on, we would all go for walks or drives to the best pizza in the area.  Much later, he checked in on my grandmother when she was in the nursing home and my parents were out of the country.  Of course I had to go to his memorial last weekend, held at his (and his father's, and his brother's, his son's and my) alma mater... and where he and my father taught together for decades.

Like most Small Liberal Arts Colleges, mine has been engaged in building and expanding the campus.  With the exception of the original 1800s quad, I'm not sure I'd have found my way around thanks to all the changes.  Shortly before I started, the school went co-ed.  At that time, the fraternities ruled the school's social life - and the addition of young women didn't change things.  Except at one, an independent, that allowed women to join.  Many of my friends did, as did I.  We had less money than the nationals, but we threw the best parties, where the emphasis was on dancing and enjoying rather than drinking (flipped, obvs, at the other houses).  Years later, the school bought all the fraternity houses and converted them into dorms.  Our house was situated at the entrance to one side of campus, and rather than become a dorm it became the new Student Center.

Last weekend, we parked and were walking to the bookstore, passing buildings that hadn't existed 30+ years ago.  The House I'd known and loved seemed to be a shell, with only the facade retained.  We went in to the bookstore, and at the entrance I turned right, to where the House had been.  And this is what I saw:


Some things haven't changed that much.  Ok, the couches are in better shape, the floor far less scuffed but if I closed my eyes I could hear Thing Three talking, or Thing Two DJ-ing, or any of the others playing Trivial Pursuit or planning the next party or figuring out the theatre production schedule (most of us were theatre people).  Dinner would be served just down the hall.  

Turning left, though, it was a whole new world.  As they say, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

9.9.19

Notable Quotes

"I'd like a large regular coffee with space for extra cream, please," said Wil."One Hefty with extra space," replied the teenager, "Would that be a latte?""No, a large regular coffee.  And I don't want a 'Hefty'""But you just said —""I said large. I'm not going to fall victim to Mug O' Joe's corporate vernacular. I just want a large coffee."The teenage blinked, confused.  This was beginning to go in the exact same direction it always went whenever Wil stood up for himself: namely, south."Hefty means big.  So does Bulky.  And so does Outsized.  We've had this conversation before.""No we haven't.  This is my first day.""Well, I've had it with all thirty-five of your predecessors.  I'm not using your terminology because it doesn't make sense." Wil pointed at the overly indulgent chalk-drawn menu just to make it clear he and the teenager were discussing the same issue.  "Just because someone in marketing happens to own a thesaurus, and just because your shareholders insist your drink sizes appear bigger than they are, and just because you are between liberal arts colleges and wish to bring your artists talents to bear on today's menu, it doesn't mean I have to join in.  I would like a large regular coffee with space for extra cream.  Please.""One Heft—""Don't say it.""One large coffee. Regular.  What flavor?" The teenage was beginning to get the hang of this argument.  He wasn't going to go down without a fight.

Curioddity by Paul Jenkins 

2.9.19

The Almost Gone

I read a book recently that talked about the Almost Gone.  Who are they?  They're people who have died yet are not forgotten in living memories.  Not those famous people we all hear about has having Made A Difference or Discovered Something so are part of our cultural memory, but those people we actually knew - family, friends, teachers, enemies, etc..  As long as they live in our memory, they're not completely gone.

Last weekend would have been my parents' 60th Anniversary.  It didn't feel right to let my father be on his own, so I decided to go home.  He balked, saying it was a lot of driving and obviously there were other things for me to do, given the start of the school year.  Tough.  I was coming. 

That first night, after dinner, we talked.  He's gotten through the first eight months, but it's been difficult.  Luckily he's had projects to complete, and many friends to spend time with (he says he's inherited a number of girlfriends, close friends of my mother who go for dinners, lunches and walks with him).  But he's lonely.  He's still at the house we moved into 50 years ago and while we've given away most of Mom's clothing everything else there is a reminder of her.

By the end of the second day, he admitted that having me around and going to museums and dinners and all that was distracting, and he was grateful.  We both frequently mentioned her, as in "Mom and I loved this drive" or "Mom would never have let me wear that outfit".  We partially planned the internment of her ashes and unveiling of her tombstone.  I wrote about half of the thank you notes to people who had written to us and/or donated in her memory.  In three weeks I'll be back because his best friend and colleague (died in early March) will be memorialized and my father will be speaking.  It's going to be difficult for him to give that speech, and I won't let him give it alone. 

I'm reminded of a speech given by a teacher at my high school, remembering the teacher who had inspired me many years ago.  Jack was so memorable that decades later his students remembered him (I was friends with an older woman and one day I said something about my alma mater; she said she knew and loved a teacher there - imagine my shock and pleasure that it was Jack, in year one or two of his teaching career, at another school!), and he couldn't walk across campus without constantly being stopped to say hello and talk with students and colleagues.  Yet a few years after Jack's retirement, on a visit back to campus, no one knew who he was, excepting those colleagues still teaching there. The speaker challenged the current students to think about their brief four years on campus and what impression they could make on the lives of their teachers and the other students: what legacy would they leave behind?

Both my mother and his friend are part of the Almost Gone.  They live on in the memories of friends and family, and in my father's friends' case, in the students whose lives he touched.  Their legacies are secure, for a while at least.   What will people think when I'm Almost Gone?  What will they think about you?