As the rains come down and keep coming down and darkness settles into the house, I find myself thinking about things that happened long ago. I wonder, as I get older, how many of those involved in these little snippets of memory are still with us. I suppose part of the nostalgia is not knowing and/or wondering if any of them are wondering if I’m still with us. (So far, so good.)
Speaking broken Dutch, while part of a volunteer group restoring an old ship to serve as a school for the children of shippers, one duty was selling lottery tickets at that summer’s sailboat races, I approached many people and hoped for the best. Each ticket cost one guilder, so we weren’t asking for a big commitment. I saw several college-age girls and thought they probably had extra cash. Their response to my questions (in Dutch) was, “Spreekt u Engels?” You can probably figure out what that means. I said, “Sure,” and when they said they were on vacation from Florida in the U.S., I said, “I hope y’all are having a good time” in my best Southern accent. That surprised them. I confessed that I, too, was from Florida and was in a volunteer group restoring and old ship. I don’t think they bought a lottery ticket, but the encounter was somewhat surprising.
- Once while I was in a sailor bar in the Philippines, one of my shipmates came over and asked if a particular bar girl could sit at my table for a few minutes of animated conversation while he left the bar. Her boyfriend was there and they couldn’t be seen leaving together. I have no idea what she and I talked about while sipping San Miguel beer. Well, she probably had tea. After a while, she left. Several days later I saw my friend in the so-called “VD line” on the aircraft carrier. Everyone in the line caught something in town. He shook his head and said, “Things happen.”
- While growing up, I was part of a Boy Scout troop sponsored by my church. Many meaningful experiences came out of this, not the least of which were camping trips in the Florida Panhandle that would later serve as raw material for the novels I would write. At some point, long after I left town for college and the navy, the church gave up its sponsorship. I didn’t find out until many years later. When I e-mailed the church, nobody seemed to know that it had ever sponsored the troop and, if it had, why the relationship ended. This always bothered me. I kept wanting to find the culprit and ask what the hell they were thinking.
- Two Swedish girls and two U.S. male students were part of that international group restoring the boat in the Netherlands. As lame as it sounds, the other guy from the U. S. and I ended up dating the Swedish girls. When the girl I was dating invited me to Sweden to live with her in her parents’ house to keep me from being drafted into the Vietnam war, I came very close to accepting her offer. If I had, I might never have seen my parents or brothers again. Nonetheless, I almost did it. For years, I thought that not going to Sweden with her was the biggest mistake I ever made. Such thoughts, though, make me pause when I think that if I had gone with her, my daughter and granddaughters wouldn’t exist. It’s a sobering thought. Even so, I wonder where Anna is today.
- When I attended the University of Colorado one summer, I spent most of my time with the university’s mountain recreation department climbing mountains every week. My father had done it before me. We summited some of the state’s 14,000 peaks and my skills improved more every weekend outside the classroom than inside the classroom. I met a lot of great people and wonder what became of them after the summer session ended. We hiked and climbed a lot of miles together, but they’re all gone with the wind.
Like most of you, I have hundreds of memories like this, memories that are gathering dust in the recesses of my mind. I capture some of them in my fiction, but the others fade away. It’s part of growing older, I suppose and knowing that when each of us in my generation is gone, a lot of memories will be done, too.