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Wars Prove We Learn Little from the Past
Nephew Brad sent an e-mail saying that he wished he had a time machine. That set me to musing about what events I’d repeat to form a distillation of my life. They say that youth is wasted on the young, and I surely squandered some of mine. If I had a second chance, I’d listen--really listen--and look--really look, and I’d taste, touch and smell each experience to its dregs. Your list of what you’d do again would be different from mine, but similar in the details, wouldn’t it?
It would be Thanksgiving with all of us at the round oak table, savoring Mother’s cooking. I’d hear moans of defeat or chortles of glee when my mother, sisters, nieces and I played Canasta. I’d listen to old Granny spinning yarns about the olden days or talking about books.
Along about eight o’clock on a fine morning, Wanda would show up.: "Mrs. Gard, can Rose Mary come out?" We’d put on our steel roller skates and clatter blithely down the sidewalk. I’d laugh at Jack Bundy’s jokes, spend the night with Francis Cranfill, play tennis with Gigi (Janita) Hall or Sarah, join the Nine Nifty Nicitinos for a slumber party at Vivian Forst’s home, sit on the porch swing with my parents on a summer evening, talk books with Ed Fort on the way home from school.. We’d picnic at the Springs with Uncle Nolan and Aunt June Kelly or go fishing on the Brandywine south of Greenfield with Mother’s cousin, Mary, and Scuyler Beck. I’d listen to Uncle Ivan’s guffaws and Aunt Nola’s giggles.
I’d visit my favorite teachers and sit at a basketball game with Lora Mae Reeves while Clara Keesling sold Cokes and cousin Wayne Kelly took pictures. I’d return to college where my friends and I talked earnestly about life and how we were going to change education. I’d revisit my best French class and re-experience the joy of teaching on a good day.
I’d relive the effervescence of falling in love, getting married, the joy of taking baby Vicki home from the hospital and the happy times with our grandsons. I’d hear the voices of Bill’s people raised in political debate or song at a Clarke party: "Oh, I’ve got a loverly bunch of coconuts . . . " I’d watch the sunrise over Bryce Canyon with Rick, hike with Esther, go sledding with Jack and Joyce, laugh when some of my friends got snockered on champagne at my 40th birthday party, return to Italy and France with our friends. Above all, I’d enjoy quiet times with Bill: driving through the Adirondacks early on a lovely October morn, eating scallops next to the blue, sun-dazzled Atlantic, hiking through a Teton mountain meadow carpeted in wild flowers, watching the moonrise over Leigh Lake at the foot of Mt. Moran . . .
I’d hear Denyse Graves perform "Carmen" in Chicago, and I’d sob during "La Boheme." I’d read my favorite books and see my favorite paintings for the first time. Which ones? Which ones? I’d have "booky" talks with friend Phyllis or brother Earl, play Scrabble with Christine, share meows with Nancy about office gossip, make cookies with Bill’s mother, share recipes with Pat . . .all gone, alas, alas . . .
And Christmas! Oh, the Christmases! . . .
Poof! The golden dream-bubble has burst, and I’m back to the reality of days after 9/11.
Some may view my essays as simplistic or maudlin. However, one can’t express all sides of a story in such a limited space--one must select. Singer Mel Torme, "The Velvet Fog.", entitled his autobiography It Wasn’t All Velvet. Well, the United States of my youth wasn’t all velvet, either.
As the French say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Who among us hasn’t experienced rotten teachers, some mean classmates, failed romances, illness, deaths of beloved people, loneliness, religious, racial or religious prejudice or railed against governmental stupidity? The anniversary of 9/11 reminded me that for all his intellect, homo sapiens - Thinking Man - has learned nothing from the past. All my life we’ve either been at war, preparing for war, recovering from war or fearing war. I learned that the Russians had the atomic bomb when I was a kid, and dreamed that they were bombing Knightstown. And now I have a new, waking nightmare that extremists like Bin Ladin, Ahmadinejab and Chavez will prevail over the world where Hitler and Stalin failed.
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