Aging changes the way one thinks.
|I loved being an American when I was a kid. I think old war movies caused the feeling. John Wayne fighting to the last man in "Bataan". Our guys coming from behind and defeating the Japanese at Midway. Americans were smart and we were tough. We were always right no matter what we did. We went to school and we obeyed the rules because you knew if you didn't, you would pay the price. It was assumed that our parent's generation was smarter than us, and tougher. They had shown this in a war we saw replayed in the movies and on TV...when we got a good picture. Discipline at home was often more severe than that doled out at school. So you hid, as best you could, those swats the gym teacher gave you for loafing during calisthenics. Dad had the "board of education" hanging on the wall at home.
As soldiers, Americans always fought to the last man, jumped on a grenade for our buddy, and protected our way of life. We were always in the right. At least from a moral perspective we were always on the right side. Sometimes we died, but as a nation of Americans we always were on the right side. That was the post war America I grew up in and loved.
Something is different now. I don't feel like I could jump on a grenade for just any American. It would have to be a family member. Perhaps a brother... maybe. Certainly a spouse or child or grand kid. The neighbors can jump on their own grenades. I am pretty sure that most of them would not jump on a grenade for me. They would have to go first is what I am saying, if a live grenade were to be between us for some reason. Lacking proof of their worthiness I do not die for them.
I am pretty sure that some of the neighbors don't like us. The last election showed that neighbors were rooting for opponents of my preferred candidates. One of them claimed to be a member of the political party that screwed up the past few years. At least they are now being blamed for all the troubles we currently have. I found out we each voted for Ross Perot a few years ago, but somehow he still has to jump on the grenade first. Grenade worthy people have to have more in common than a single time we voted for the same candidate. Especially Perot. I'm not sure, but I may have been in error to vote for Perot.
My best buddy as a kid was a left-hander named Mark Dommer. We did a lot of stuff together as far as playing sports was concerned. This was before girls were invented and baseball cards were still for kids. Looking back on it I am sure at least one of us put a Mickey Mantle card in the spokes of our bike to make that noise we liked. We could have been rich if we kept all the cards we bought. I know I had a bunch or early Al Kalines. He was my favorite and still is. He was grenade worthy when I was a kid, but I might let him blow up now. There is a difference between a hero when you are young and a hero when he is old. In life's calculator I am the constant and everything and everybody else changes. K'boom!
We played ball in Mark's driveway as kids. Hockey too, but I remember the baseball the most. We used a whiffle ball reinforced by something like duct tape. Probably the white hockey tape...or maybe masking tape. I swear when we were kids there were only a couple of kinds of tape. Can't remember what we had now. But it made the ball last a lot longer and you could make it act more like a real baseball. We thought that anyway, as we were acting as our heroes did. We kept track of our averages mainly. Home runs were important and your average too. Mark had much better penmanship than I did, so he got to do the writing of stats we kept. How he could do it left handed always amazed me.
In 1962 my family moved hundreds of miles away to White Bear Lake, Minnesota. My dad got a new job with another company. It was the middle of 8th grade for me and I was a stranger in what turned out to be a very cold climate compared to Livonia, Michigan. I remember being very homesick for Mark and my grenade worthy friends in Livonia. I felt I needed the warmth of their friendships to keep going in Minnesota. While it was not hard to make friends in White Bear Lake, it was hard to give up the friends I already had made. I remember getting into a fight with a kid in Minnesota (in the John after school) because he did not play hard in a volley ball game and he was on my side. I threw the grenade at him! I won the fight as he gave up, but I couldn't hit him in the face. As we fought I remember not really wanting to hurt him. I may have jumped on my own grenade because I decided I didn't really want to throw it. I made some new friends because I won though.
Sometime during the first year in Minnesota my parents arranged for me to take a bus to Detroit to stay with Mark for a week or so. I remember going to Olympia with Mark and his dad and having our pictures taken with some of the Red Wings including Gordie Howe. We went to Bill Gadsby's bar and talked with a few other Red wing players. Marks dad, Charles or Chas as I recall, was a pretty good pitcher in the Philadelphia farm system and seemed to know a lot of local sports people. It was great to get back to my old buddies, but the trip ended with a big K'boom.
The bus and I arrived back in Minnesota, but my luggage went somewhere else. I had lots of pictures with friends and sports stars in that suitcase. I had the memories in my head and my suitcase, but I had no proof for the people in White Bear Lake. I know I felt bad at the time the luggage was lost, but maybe that was the break from the past that I needed to really get started in Minnesota. I know I stopped being homesick and I started to develop some really fine friendships in White Bear Lake. And I still remember the good time I had going back to my old friends. I remember Olympia where the Red Wings practiced while I took the photos. The memories became a part of my experience and changed me forever. But my memories were a young person's memories. They were mostly happy or at least enjoyable to look back to with a smile on my face.
Things were different back then. I remember them as more fun...better times. I wonder if the times really changed or, if it has been just me. Do I see things differently now? Do I have a choice?
I know that memories are not always pleasant. I know that I have missing spaces of time in my life. I suspect that the time gaps are associated with events that I do not want to remember. I know I don't want to remember some of them because they still make me feel like I wanted to die at one point in my life. And I don't like or want to go back to feeling those feelings. They seem to be all too easy to bring back if I allow them appear.
The worst feelings I conjure are when I remember Nancy. She was my first love in the days when I did not even know how to kiss a girl. We knew each other from attending the same church. We were boyfriend and girlfriend from 9th grade until our marriage in 1970. We learned about love and life from each other until she died in 1972. She graduated from the University of Minnesota that year and we set out to go camping in the Grand Tetons before we looked for careers. I remember laughing when it hailed on our pancakes one morning. But soon after that vacation she began feeling very poorly due to a worsening of her ulcerative colitis. By fall she had a surgery to remove her colon and she died shortly after the surgery from infection. I did not even see the grenade to jump on it!