Friday, August 16, 2013

All Those Yesterdays

Yesterday has been following me.
From 1972 and 1953 and 1947. Decades ago.
Not merely yesterday.

This weekend - it started today for me - is attempting to pull me back in time.
Faces and events seem to be gathering like wind-swept leaves from an October maple and swirling about me.
Colorful but fading. Patterns but scattered. (Sorry about the trite metaphor but it’s the best I could come up with)

It began today with a large gathering for lunch at Mike Duffy's in Kirkwood.
The occasion: to celebrate the life of Ellie Ohrn. We don’t mourn death anymore. We celebrate life. 
You probably didn’t know Ellie. I barely did. She was an established writer, close to legend status, when I first worked at D'Arcy Advertising from 1972 to 1975. I was busy trying to make a good impression, come up with incredibly original creative concepts. Ellie was a writer in the group but I didn't get to know her well. My loss. After hearing what friends and family and co-workers had to say about her today, and the obit in today's Post-Dispatch, I missed the opportunity to connect with someone quite special.

So, at the lunch today, were faces from my D'Arcy past, men and women I hadn't seen in a long time, many widows now, several with walkers or canes, stooped and struggling to remain vital, deal with losses brought by aging. Yet, they were there. And several who looked remarkably well. Sun-tanned, erect, bright-eyed, sharp and gregarious. How, I wondered, did they view me?

It was a visit to yesterday, 41 years ago. No game like the ad game; no stories like those told by the men and women who fought in the trenches for market share.

The leaves of time will continue to gather over the weekend.
Dragging me back 60 years, to 1953, when I graduated University City High School.

You guessed it. Saturday and Sunday, 60 or 70 of us (including spouses) gather for our 60th Reunion. Six decades doesn't begin to blur my memories of Mr. McKinney's chemistry class. Because of him, I decided to become a chemical engineer. That got shot down after two years at Wash. U when I ran headlong into Physics and some advanced math class I have since blocked out. I still have nightmares about those two years. He was just one. There were many others. I even remember where I sat in their classes. 

I still see the long, locker-trimmed halls, smell the aroma of wax, feel the comforting warmth as I entered the school building on a frigid winter day after walking several blocks. 

High School, in retrospect, pushed me into corners of acceptance I had no interest in. Good grades, polite friends, avoidance of cigarettes and booze, engineer boots and turned up collars to be cool. Joni James and Kitty Kallen and the Four Aces and even Spike Jones. For me it was not a time to break out and announce myself, but continue the long, gradual incline to self-improvement and acceptance. And pleasing my parents.

Those faces of my U. City classmates, fortunately with name tags attached, await me this weekend.

One more significant date. Sunday. August 18th.
My birthday.
They don't mean much these days, markers I'm glad to reach but have no cause to celebrate. Dinner with my wife, a movie in a theater (not hi-def TV), a walk with our two golden retrievers if the weather stays nice. That's birthday time. No, my thoughts don't go back to the day I was born. I know I was there. The rest is legend. But I remember the apartment on Leland in the Delmar Loop when I was four. The house on Midvale across from Flynn Park, when I was six. And a goldfish I pulled out of a bowl and watched it flop on the rug until it died. I might have been two or three then. My first experience with death, though it had no name. 

So the days continue. I played softball this morning. A great morning. Hit two singles, a double, a triple, and pitched. We won, easily. The back is a little sore, but it'll feel fine tomorrow. And today will be yesterday with fond memories of that game.

What's the lesson? Adele knows what it is. I interviewed her a couple of months ago, for a video project. Adele is 101 years old. Very sharp, both mentally and physically. She lives in an assisted-living facility. "So, Adele, what's your secret?" She smiled, nodded her head. "I don't have one. I just don't think about my age."

That's the secret. And I share it with you. So even if and when those fragments of the past occasionally come skittering your way, you'll know what to do. You'll know to enjoy those times, appreciate "old friends," learn as much about yourself as you can, and then get on with your life. Just don't think about how old you are. You have better things to do.