Tuesday, July 13, 2010

the big sunset

When I was in private practice, I had several clients who lived in rest homes.

Many of them had lived in large houses.  But the inevitable erosion of age had scraped away their personal possessions they once thought defined them.  Until they were often left only with a shoe box filled with greeting cards, letters, and photographs. 

The silt beds of what had once been a shining city on the hill.  Soon -- no city, no hill.

No matter what career heights they had scaled, each was reduced to that little shoe box.  Merely waiting for the day, they would have their final possession laid away in another box.

Mrs. Strang had been a neighbor while I was growing up.  A feisty Scot, she had an incredible mind for figures.  Not surprisingly, she had been an accountant.  I was in grade school when she and her husband moved to the house behind us.  Displacing the girl with red hair who had stoked my young fantasies.

The Strangs were retired.  Even then, they seemed old to me.  But incredibly active.  They always had time for a young guy who liked hearing tales of Scotland.

After he died, her arthritis became so disabling, she moved to a rest home.  I would see her as often as I could.  As her attorney.  But, more importantly, as her friend.

At some point during each visit, she would pull out a tattered memory and share its private meaning with me. I came to consider those moments my personal sacraments.  Sharing another person's life at its essential level.

She suffered a series of strokes that left her mind sharp but her mouth almost paralyzed.  I knew her time was drawing to an end, when she started pressing her mementos into my hand at the end of our conversations.

I thought about her last night -- as I was looking through some photographs from last July.  And indulged in that bitter almond taste of nostalgia.  What was going on.  How I felt.  Who I met.  Who I liked.

It made me feel a bit like Mrs. Strang.  Even though I am not in a rest home, my memories are starting to become more precious to me. 

Certainly I have lived more years than I have years in my future.  Unless federal medical care is going to keep me pumping along until I am 125.  And that is a prospect too grotesque to contemplate.

I have historically been a ruthless trasher.  If I have not looked at or used something in the past year, out it goes.  As I start sorting through some of my possessions in hopes of putting my house on the market, I find myself a bit reluctant to throw out everything.

Instead, I have started putting aside some greeting cards, letters, and photographs. 

All I need now is a shoe box.


Leah Flinn said...

Great post, Steve. Good reminder to consider the things that matter when reflecting upon one's own mortality.

Tancho said...

Gee Steve, And I was thinking I was the only one who enjoys the memories of the past...
They seem to have been more wholesome then what I wind up doing now. We have everything as long as we can still remember IT.

1st Mate said...

We all seem to indulge more in nostalgia as we age, and of course the view looking back is always rosier than it really was. The whole antique industry cashes in on it. Enjoy your trip through memory lane, amigo.

Anonymous said...

weeelll, I've just spent HOURS reading your fabulous blog... found it poking around looking for my next summer vacation and checking into Manzanilla, Manzanillo and Melaque (Manzanilla leading by a nose).
Thanks so much for an informative and entertaining read.... perhaps paths will cross next summer... I'll tell you about some adventures with the medical system in Panama (much like yours)

Sorry to pollute your comment section with this long note but couldnt get though with email and eyes too blurred after all this reading to figure it out.


Anonymous said...

I seem to remember I had two sons that kept at me to throw things away. They were too young to realize some things bring pleasant memories. Now it seems one of them is beginning to understand.


jennifer rose said...

It sounds like someone, and I'm not naming names, was absent the day "He who dies with the most toys wins" was taught. I fully expect my heirs to earn their legacies by sifting through my collections.

Babs said...

Beautifully written - one of the best!

Anonymous said...

Yesterday is memory,today is here.
Tomorrow,who knows...
Have fun filled day and make a lot of memory!

Irene said...

Thank you for such a wonderful post. It made me think of "Bookends" by Simon and Garfunkel.

Laurie said...

I actually wrote an incredibly heartwarming comment about this blogpost a few days ago. But alas! Lost in Cyperspace. This was a great blog post. Keep them coming, Steve!

Steve Cotton said...

Leah -- This afternoon I attended a memorial service for a man I did not know. It made me think of this post. We simply do not know when the chord will be cut.

Tancho -- That is one reason I enjoy Mexico. It is life in the 50s, but with modern conveniences.

1st Mate -- I am finding it rather easy to divest myself of the past. But the trip is enjoyable.

Cynthia -- Great to hear from you. Welcome. If you get down our way next year, let me know.

Mom -- Yup.

Jennifer -- What I took south would qualify as minimalism. What I have left behind in Salem is a veritable cornucopia. Most will be left for others -- unless I sell the place.

Babs -- Thanks.

Anonymous -- I have little left to do than to make memories.

Irene -- Who could ask for a nicer comparative compliment.

Laurie -- Thanks. I have had the same problem with comments that have gone missing. This program can be rather irritating, at times.