Photos, words, memories

Savannah Morning News

Dec. 6, 2015

It used to be words, scribbled here, scratched there. That’s how we (or shall I say I?) would remember things. That’s how we would communicate. It worked pretty well, that word thing, until it didn’t, until there were just so many words coming at us – texts, emails, facebook messages, facebook posts, snail mail, reminder flyers, poem-a-day sites, evites – that we just couldn’t keep up, we couldn’t find them, we couldn’t file them (remember filing?).

Now there are photos. On our phone. But will we know what they mean three or four years from now? Will they translate to anything meaningful, assuming we take the time to move them from the phone to some place more permanent? Most are not even dated.

When I returned from a Thanksgiving trip to Eureka Springs, Ar., my former home in the Ozark Mountains, I flashed through the camera roll on my phone. The first one? A photo of a notebook that reads, “Personal internet address and password logbook.”

Ah, yes, that morning in Lucilla’s brightly lit kitchen down from the Crescent Hotel and with Christ of the Ozarks in full view when someone called Elizabeth, Lucilla’s NYC-based daughter, about finding a notebook in front of the post office on Spring Street. Did she know anyone named Beth. Elizabeth’s name and number were in the book.

“Beth,” we shrieked in unison. “How can you put those important numbers in a notebook that screams, ‘IMPORTANT PASSWORD NUMBERS’?”

Beth, nonchalant, shrugged it off. “I wasn’t worried,” she said, placing the retrieved notebook in her purse.

Next photo: my vintage wallet with “Jane” stitched on it, maybe by an earnest Girl Scout working on a badge years ago? Or a prisoner in a crafts class? When I transferred planes in Charlotte, I went to buy a snack, some hummus, before realizing I didn’t have my wallet. I raced back to the gate and told the stewardess. She, bless her heart, went to the plane and retrieved it. Nonchalant? Me? Decidedly not.

Then there’s a shot of some liner notes from a CD. It listed my old pal drummer Alex Hahn’s name on a tune with Don Henly and Mick Jagger (now that’s cool); a book I started reading and need to finish (“The Man Who Made Lists, Love, Death, Madness and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus”), a book I borrowed and finished (“Just Kids”) and a book someone recommended: “The Secret Chord” by Geraldine Brooks.

But that photo of liver sausage and Triscuits?

“She still eats them,” Alex said of his mom, Rae.

The bowl of pine needles?

“I’ve started making a tea out of them,” said John, who lives in the country near plenty of pine trees. “Try it.”

Then there was Becca and me sitting on a concrete bench by one of Eureka’s springs, chitchatting, discussing the future, the present, the past, as we are wont to do.

Then there was La Luna’s, a Salvadorian restaurant in nearby Berryville “with the best puposas on the planet,” says Billy (except it was closed), a sign with the price of gas ($1.84), the sign in Garfield (population: 502), where I mailed a post card, and the sign for Fly Shoes in downtown Eureka, just one of many high-end shops that have hit this formerly sleepy Victorian town.

The rest I will have to remember on my own.

“Meet me on Douglas Street,” Billy texted. “I’m painting a porch.”

“Can you remind me where Douglas Street is,” I ask the librarian at the iconic Carnegie Public Library.

“It’s behind the food bank,” she answers to someone who hasn’t lived there in 25 years.

“You mean where Joyce English and Danny used to live?” I asked. Blank stare. “Near East Mountain that led up to Dick and Jack’s house?” Another blank stare.

Things change. The town, still under 3,000, gets a dog park, a skate park and a transit system. New people move in. Old friends move away. Real estate goes up. Cancer strikes in indiscriminate ways. Children of friends now live in Oakland, Ca., Dallas, New York City, Kalamazoo, Mi., Denver and Cameroon, as in Africa. Memories of people who passed on start to fade away in spite of our best efforts to keep them alive through photos, stories and toasts. But we try anyway.

“To Mannie and Vernon,” Dina said at Thanksgiving, raising a glass of Champagne, son Favio and grandson Isaiah nearby, “who started these gatherings so many years ago. May we always remember and keep them in our hearts.”












What’s a few years anyway?

Savannah Morning News column

Nov. 29, 2015

Last week without hesitation or doubt I dated a check 2005.

“That’s nothing,” a woman said when I told her this story. “The other day I wrote my maiden name on a check. I’ve been married 15 years.”

Who can keep up?

Some friends are visiting this week from Durham, N.C. I was sure it was less than four or five months since we had last seen one another.

“Nope,” said Gene. “It was on my birthday.”

That never changes. It was the end of August.


Sometimes it works in our favor, this memory thing. Was it my left knee I broke last summer in Tel Aviv or the right? Or is that just reinventing the past to keep from going crazy with the truth. Now I hear myself speaking of the month-long stay-at-home knee recovery period in almost glowing terms. “It wasn’t so bad. I read three books. I got to experience stillness.”

One thing’s for sure: It’s hard to remember pain. When I tell people my knee hurt so much when I tried to lift it over the threshold going to the bathroom that I had to literally pick up my leg it’s the truth. Not that I feel the pain. I don’t anymore. That ability to block out or forget the pain is, I’m pretty certain, a good thing, although I’ve always found disappointments carry a greater level of emotion than achievements, like submitting work to a writing contest and not winning anything – boo, hiss, rats – versus taking first, second or third (of course who wants to come in second, which is so close to first? Third is better than second). But the award? Whew, OK, I won. That’s good. All with little or no emotion.

Other things are certain too: war, homicide, suicide bombers, crooked politicians, decaying infrastructure, more bluster, more air strikes, more collateral damage. If you smudge out the date on today’s news you might just as well be reading yesterday’s news and not just news from 2015. Nothing new about regime change. Iran, Chile, Guatemala, Iraq, Afghanistan. Doesn’t work. Nations, like people, have to change themselves.

It’s a wonder we read anything at all in the news. Some people don’t. Some people on the drive to and from work listen to Mahler or Mendelssohn or Nine Inch Nails. News updates? Paris bombings? What Paris bombings? As far as I can see these people don’t seem to be missing out on anything.

I tried that one day. I left my phone at home (ok, not deliberately), but with it all vital information, camera, calendar, calculator, date, weather, connection to news updates, reminders, email and “notes”. I swear my shoulders dropped three inches. I stood taller. I sat and watched a hawk on my neighbor’s chimney (he was sitting very still, just waiting for me to open the chicken coop and let the girls out for some exercise, some worms). My arms swung a bit freer. My mind, well, it was just a little freer, too.

It didn’t last. I’m an addict. If it weren’t so serious, if so many people didn’t keep dying, I might as well regard the news as I do a serial television series. As it is I might as well just watch Homeland and get lost in the wily, worried eyes of Claire Danes aks Carrie Mathison (at least we know she won’t die. She can’t. She’s the main character) or Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson (he can’t die either; he’s another star and he’s the former head of the CIA; they don’t die, right?) At least we get to see what Berlin looks like.

At least, on Thanksgiving, we get to eat good, laugh good, be around good friends and feel good. That never changes.

I was talking to someone the other day when out of the blue he asked how long I have known a mutual friend of ours.

“Since 1989,” I said to Ben. “You probably weren’t even born yet.”

“I was 2,” he answered.

A few minutes later he asked me over to dinner. What’s a few years, anyway, I thought. Nothing. Nothing at all. It’s just time.