Souls vanishing from earth

October 13, 2012

One by one, they’re leaving their earthly shells and moving on, leaving behind only the stories they told, and the memories.  Before long, my parents’ generation will vanish from this earth, leaving ours as the next to make the great transition.

From his college photo album. Does this look like a great outdoorsman?*

My father’s lawyer and one of his closest friends died last week, at the ripe old age of 91. The event pushed me back to my childhood, and a fishing trip he and my father took. Although Dad fancied himself a great outdoorsman, I don’t think it came naturally; both he and J. were more like city slickers than men of the wild. I think my father forced himself to do things like hunt bear in Alaska to prove his Sicilian machismo and to tell a great story.

Such was the case with the legendary fishing trip, which was marked by a nightmare J had in the middle of the night.  Some time in the wee hours, the story goes, J. awakened, screaming, “Get it off me! Get it off me!”  It was a snake in a dream and J apparently began doing a Native American war dance to shake it off.

The details of the story are hazy now, but I’m sure they included my father reaching for his loaded gun, which I am certain was conveniently within reach of his sleeping bag.

No snake was ever found and no shots were fired, but the story lived on. My father told it often, repetitively and with great glee. Not so sure he would’ve liked the story as well had he been the butt of the joke, though.

Dad was a loner, and his close friendship with J. was one of only a few he had over his lifetime. He didn’t play golf or attend ball games or have beers in a neighborhood bar–the things guys traditionally do.  No, his life was consumed with work. Office hours before noon, where he kidded around with his tiny patients. He loved kids during their toddler years and enjoyed teasing them as he peered into their ears with an otoscope.

My dad’s office was on the ground floor. We lived above it at first. He built it with his own two hands.

“Do I see carrots in there?” he’d ask. “Are there carrots growing in your ears?”
“Noooo!” the kids would correct him, outraged at the thought. And he’d smile.
Impatient with the parents, he was at his best with the kids he took care of.

He was impatient with his own kids, too.  Dad was a man who gave at the office. There was nothing left over for us at home and I knew it young. Just as soon as he returned being called back to service during the Korean War it was clear that work consumed him in a way other things–including his family– could not.

Little Carol & her Daddy.

So having buddies, at least in the traditional sense, was not his thing. Just no time. And no inclination.

But he did love J, and respect him, and that anecdote was one of the few my father told that involved friends after he got married and had children.  My father died in 2008. And now, J. has also passed on. I like to think of them hanging out together in the afterlife, laughing and telling tall tales.

I have one aunt –my mother’s brother’s ex-wife– and one uncle–my father’s youngest brother– remaining. When they’re gone, that generation will have disappeared from the face of the earth. My generation and that half generation ahead of it are already starting to go.

Now that I’m semi-retired and living life out of mainstream involvement, I feel the aging of my cohort more keenly than ever before.  I can look back at my life in chapters that seem as though they’ve only just played out moments ago. And yet I know that those memories are 40 or even 50 years old.

Civic plans that go out more than 20 years–when I see them the thought crosses my mind that they won’t be implemented in my lifetime. The idea that there are things–public transportation, roads— already on the books that will happen after I’m gone is jarring.

As I sent my condolences to J’s family, I had a chance to revisit an old chapter of my life. It was like going back to an beloved, old, favorite book, like Little Women or Wuthering Heights, and reacquainting myself with familiar characters.

A book in which there are now, inescapably, more chapters on the left side of the spine than the right.

*I found three mysterious photos in a mostly empty photo album that looks like it was from my father’s undergrad years at University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana. They looked like modeling photos and my dad certainly looked handsome and brooding. I suspect they could’ve been for a student project, as they were very artsy.

5 comments on “Souls vanishing from earth
  1. Anonymous says:

    great post…feel the same way about my mom and her friends…very jarring to think of us as the oldest generation now. ugh

  2. Anonymous says:

    I always like your personal stories best…and usually some of your best writing, too.

  3. Thanks, P.
    and yes, s jarring, anon!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hello, I simply wanted to take time to make a comment and say I have really enjoyed reading your site.

  5. It’s heart wrenching to watch them to, but for most of mine, I know they are going to a better place and I will join them there. Praise Jesus!

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