Monday, February 9, 2009

Touching the Past

Having the kind of brain that retains vivid memories long after they've outlived their usefulness, I am drawn to ponder them, call them up once more, examine them and bore the pants off people who have no interest in them and can't even remember the events ever happened.

In some ways this is a liability. In some ways it might be an advantage. I have written two books that were helped enormously by having a sharp memory. I love stories of the old days. My curiosity about history has caused me to write many a blog post about old Hoboken, and some of those stories have helped me build quite a large readership here and helped me make more than a few wonderful friends in a place I've lived just over a year. There may even be a book about old Hoboken hatching somewhere in my lizard brain.

A few months ago I was contacted by a man I'd known in 1971 and hadn't even thought of since. He saw a television commercial with an actress who reminded him of me in 1971 and looked me up on the Internet. Likewise, I saw the blog had a visitor from Seattle and knew only one person that might be, so I looked him up on the Internet and got in touch with him. (In the latter case, he hadn't been the blog visitor, but he did remember me and told me he'd take me to lunch next time he came East.) The first man was another who needs to touch the past, as I do; he has told me he is still in touch with people he was in college with in the 1960s.

I have four women I went to grammar school with that I still have lunch with when back at home in Lower Alabama. We talk about teachers we had, and what the town was like, and then we look at pictures of each others' grandchildren. I used to think that was a little pathetic, but now I simply think it's a connection, a natural way to touch the past.

The blog post about my employment at Fairchild Publications brought any number of contacts from people in touch with that part of our shared past, and numerous comments with stories of situations and people they remembered. Mort Gordon emailed me that he appreciated the mention, and that I should write a book! There you go--another book. This one about Fairchild Publications in the 1960s and 70s.

I try not to live in the past. It's a trap when your mind surrounds you with the world as you once knew it--and the danger of just staying there increases with every year of jarring and often disgusting change. But touching the past, ever so gently, is more than a pleasant experience. It enriches life and can offer all kinds of new adventures with old friend, or repeat adventures with new friends.

The trick is in knowing how to play it. I don't know if I've got the knack of it yet, but I'm on the way.


Benedict S. said...

The first sentence or so sparked a "memory." It was of a paragrapgh in a book that I "remember" writing.

"To me all memories are pretty much the same, just dark spaces filled with flickering lights that occasionally look like something. People who live on memories lead undernourished lives. Even when they stumble across a satisfying recollection, one they might make a meal of, starved as they are they proceed to gorge themselves. They get all puffed up on wet, nostalgic fodder they think they can never get enough of. If they keep at it, they eventually sicken of life altogether. Most people don't stay in that trap very long. Eventually, the tastes and smells and textures of the moment at hand overpower them. They turn from memory as they would from any mirage, falling back into it only when they forget how deceitful it really is."

I say I remember writing that paragraph, which is to say, I remember the man I was when I wrote it. He's dead. RIP.

Hoboken Kid said...

Memories (life is worth remembering) No dark spaces with flickering dark spaces that I wish to forget...growing up in a city that was fun ...remembering that first kiss ...friends never to be forgotten ...the joys and the sad times...I touch the past whenever I can ...remembering how lucky I was in the Army...I got to go home, some did not...5-bipass heart surgery ...i got to go home...grim memories, sure...we all have some. reason to forget reason to forget anything...TOUCHING YOUR PAST IS GOOD FOR teaches you a lot ....if ya screwed up sometimes, don't do it again.