Seems that whenever you get together with old friends, the conversation will invariably devolve into “whatever-happened-to-old-what’s-her-face,” or “you-know--that-guy-that-drove-that-ratty-old-Chevelle,” or “I-wonder-what-they’re-doing-now.”
Welcome to Memory Lane. The question is, do you really want to know what happened to old what’s her face? And if you did indeed discover what they’re doing now, would it be a happy ending or a Greek tragedy?
Be careful what you wish for.
I have long been cursed with a mega-dose of sentimentality. There are people in my life that have had a profound effect on Who I Am. Many of those people are succumbing to Time; I do think that everyone likes to hear that they’ve made a positive contribution along their path. So, for those people, I will occasionally call to say hello and thank you and I hope you’re doing well.
My sixth grade teacher, Miss Romine, is one of those. Before you do the math, yes, my sixth grade teacher still rocks and, yes, we have been in contact on-and-off, pretty much since 1963. There have been long lulls in that, but during our last visit late last spring, we actually did do the math, only to discover that she is only eleven years older than I am. Our sixth grade class at Irwin School in Fort Wayne, Indiana was her first teaching job out of college. She was one hot redhead. All the boys in class called her “Lovely Lumps.” We thought we were really being racy. She is now long retired and we exchange Christmas cards (last year, she lambasted my penmanship!), and meet once a year at her local, small Hoosier town tea room for Discussions About Life.
Another long-lost contact is a gentleman who owns quite a car collection, again in Indiana. Larry was an automobile stylist. Today, he’d be called a “designer,” but when he was working for the Packard Motor Company in the Fifties, he was indeed a “stylist.” He loved the art of the automobile. Several of his cars are on display at the Auburn-Cord-Duesenburg Museum in Auburn, Indiana. I built my fledgling Reagan-era automotive journalism career around his collection; for a good three years, I wrote monthly feature articles for AutoWeek Magazine, showcasing one or another of his prized possessions. A Ferrari 340 Mexico. A Mercedes 500K. An MG-TF. He introduced me to Larry Shinoda, designer of the original Corvette Stingray. He took me under his wing at a time when I had no idea I even needed a mentor – I was that clueless. When I dialed him up a year or so ago, we picked up right where we left off. It was as if the intervening thirty years had been a long weekend. His voice was frail and his locution was slow, but his wit was as sharp as ever. It was a pleasant phone call, with no expectations of another. When we said our goodbyes, we both knew what that meant.
Not all of my reconnections have been so comfortable. Actually, some go right to “mawkish.” Several years ago, I looked up a childhood friend – again, in Indiana – and invited him to lunch when I had some down time in my hometown. We were both well into our families and careers, but we chatted about his pet duck, his dad’s Army jeep, his brother and sister…and then the subject of his mother came up. I remember his mother as a fun-loving prankster, who once left a pool of rubber vomit at the foot of my bed during a third-grade sleepover at his house. She thought that was the funniest thing in the world. Now, it seems, she had turned spiteful and ugly; she refused to speak to her son because of whom he married. She did not approve, and now there were bushels of tension and barrels of resentment. No more fun. No more pranks. I remember thinking, How does this happen? A really warm, childhood memory was shattered. When I left that restaurant, I vowed never to call old acquaintances again. Anyone. Ever.
And I’ve kept to that vow since. While curiosity sometimes gets the better of me, I try to remind myself that Time has indeed marched on, that you can’t stick your toe into the same river twice. Graham Greene said, “Sentimentality – that’s what we call the sentiment we don’t share.”
While it’s healthier to look to the future for solace and promise, I suppose, it doesn’t really hurt to look back at the past…but in the interest of solace and promise, I’d suggest that good memories are the only treasure you can’t lose.