Generations

“No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.”

Part 1

Cruel laughter rings
Around a five-year-old boy

Look at the little baby!
He carries a teddy bear!

And tears appear in the eyes
Of the young, confused boy

And the toy bear

Part 2

She was a lithesome seventeeen
Wanting to leave girlhood behind;
He was so handsome, quiet, forceful
He filled her soul, her heart, her mind

Giving herself to adult pleasure
Finding too late the price of lust;
Violence breaking out in ruin
Having a baby, broken trust

Young single mom setting up a nursery
Worn teddy bear for the baby’s bed;
The only gift that his father left him
So many things must stay
Unsaid

Part 3

His mother died when he was only six
He had no father that he’d ever known
He set off with his grandmother to live
Some other place, with everything unknown

His only friend, a tattered sewn-up toy
The house smelled funny, all his tears were spent;
He hugged his only friend up to face
Just trying to recall
His mother’s scent

(..)

Took The Truth

One summer day,
She walked into his study
And told him she didn’t love him anymore.
That it wasn’t his fault,
And there wasn’t anyone else,
But that she needed something more
Than he could give.

That weekend,
A moving van pulled up,
And within four hours
She and every sign of her
Was gone.

He sat in his almost empty living room,
Wondering what to do next.
Only, there didn’t seem to be a ‘next’.
Plenty of ‘lasts‘, though.

He didn’t tell the people at work.
He didn’t tell his sister.
He just kept living:
Going to work, and
Evading questions, like
“What’s Janice wearing to the party?”

Probably nothing, he mused.
But who knows.
What he said was
“We won’t be able to come this year.”

Why did he hide the truth?
You might ask

Same reasons we all do.

Sometimes people leave us,
And it feels like they took the truth
With them.

Her Name Was Paige

He was a superhero then,
At nine years old (in his own mind)
And she sat in the front of class
And stood by him in lunchroom line,

He’d see her on her bike sometimes
In Spring, a pink and purple blur;
Her name was Paige, and when he thought
At all of girls, he thought of her.

She was the smartest kid in class,
And ran as fast as anyone;
And sometimes down at Ander’s Field
They’d play until the setting sun.

A dozen kids, or more, there’d be,
And games they’d play for sport, or whim;
Her name was Paige, and when she thought
At all of boys, it wasn’t him.

This tale has no great denouement:
He crushed on her, she didn’t know.
At nine years old, you feel some things,
Then ride your bike and let it go.

That pink and purple bike, some nights,
Will pop into his dreams -— it does —-
Her name was Paige, and he liked her.
And that is all that story
Was

Filling Station

Once
A woman and her husband
Stopped at this place

She, eight months with child
He, thinking about walking out
And the drive had been a tense one
Old wounds reopened
Fresh hurts on display

And an old couple was there
At the same time
Laughing while they pumped gas
They asked her when the baby was due

She said, “One month.”

The old man asked her husband
“Are you excited?”
“Nervous,” was the reply

“Don’t be. Just remember:
Loving someone
Who loves you back
Is the greatest thing in the world.
And your child
Will love you back.”

Forty-eight years later
The woman is no longer young
She stands at this abandoned place
Her young granddaughter in tow.
“What is this place?” the little girl asks

This place?
This is where your grandaddy and I

Decided to stay in love


 

(“Filling Station” – 8-15-2014)

Snow Hollow

Mid-December of that year, he decided to go to the cabin anyway.

For much of that year, after his wife Angie’s death in late January, he had done virtually nothing. He was surrounded by memories of her at every turn, and that was where he wanted and needed to be.

She had been sick for a long time, “so it wasn’t really unexpected,” people thought. But somehow, he had still never expected it.

He had stopped going the places they used to go. No more pizza on Thursday nights, nor barbecue on Saturday afternoons. People at church started to wonder if he might have died, too.

And many nights, he wished he had.

But, he decided, on a whim one day, to go ahead and use the cabin booking they had made the prior year. And now, here he was, making the long drive up to Snow Hollow.

He traveled silently in the car (she had always been the one to choose the music) looking around at the mountain scenery, and thinking how much she would have loved seeing it like this. He still caught himself, from time-to-time, thinking she was there, out of the corner of his eye, only to turn expectantly towards what turned out to be an empty passenger seat.

The parking area was down the hill a ways from the cabin, and he pulled up right around sunset. He could smell wood-smoke from neighboring chimneys as he stepped into the bracing air, his one piece of luggage in hand. He trudged up the hill, scraped the key into the lock, turned the handle, and stepped into the well-remembered ancient smell of the place.

Flipping on the lights, he saw the familiar large room (the only other room was a bathroom) that was a combination of a kitchen, dining, living, and bed room. The fireplace had dry wood placed in it for his use, and he wasted no time starting a fire and lighting a couple of the kerosene lamps.

As he looked around the cabin more closely, he noticed that there had been some repair work done on one of the built-in shelves, the upper two-thirds of which were now made of a newer looking wood. He’d never really looked at any of the books on those shelves (other than to note the titles), and he absentmindedly pulled one down from the top called Lost Worlds.

It was a old Time/Life book about ancient civilizations. It appeared to have taken water damage at some point, as several of the pages were stuck together. Still, the photographs were incredible. He sat down by one of the lamps to look at it more closely.

Turning to a chapter on the Babylonian civilization, he found an envelope that had apparently been used as a bookmark at some point. Turning it over, he saw that it was postmarked from 1968.

The original letter appeared to still be in it. He pulled it out and read it.

Saigon, December 23rd, 1968

My dearest Diana —

I always do imagine it snowing back home. It seems as hot here right now as it was in the summer. I am counting the days now (143!) until I should be headed back home to see you. I think about you all the time, here, and I miss you more than any words could ever express.

This place has been harder than I was expecting, and I thought it would be hard. But we all pull together, us guys, and we’ll pull each other through, I know it. Having you to think about makes everything better, so much better.

I think I know what I want to do with my regular life, now! I want to teach. You’re probably laughing reading that, given how impatient you know me to be. But I’ve changed, I think, here. Teaching about animals and about agriculture sounds like heaven to me now.

The last picture you sent is probably my favorite one yet. I can’t send you an updated one of me as I have a bandage on my head right now from a minor thing that happened the other day. It’s no big deal, but it’s made me self-conscious about pictures. I’m sure you understand. It’s nothing to worry about.

Well, I have to keep this short as we’re kind of busy. Give my love to everyone there. I love you, more than anything in the world, and I always will.

– Artie

The letter had every sign of having had large teardrops on it. Or maybe, he thought, it was part of the water damage the book had taken. He wasn’t sure.

Looking back at the envelope (which did not appear water damaged), he saw “Sgt. Arthur Jacobsen” written in the top left hand part of the envelope.

Two years prior was the last time he had been in Snow Hollow; at that time, there was neither wireless nor cellular available. However, he had noticed upon pulling up that he still seemed to have phone service, so he started searching the name “Arthur Jacobsen” There were a pretty good number of them, but none of them were definitively this one.

Next he tried (having guessed that they were married) “Diana Jacobsen”, but he got pretty much the same types of results: lots of people by that name, including many he could rule out, but no “one”. Trying both Arthur and Diana Jacobsen did no better.

He tried then lists of people whose names are on the Vietnam wall, but no one by that name had died in Vietnam, either, which he was relieved to know. So he placed the envelope back in the book, and placed the book back on the shelf.

The next few days passed without incident. He decided one night to go into the village and pick up a few things (like batteries). The old owner of the village’s one store saw him and offered condolences. He had never really gotten used to the ritual of explaining to people about his wife’s death, so he was always glad when he met someone who had already heard.

“How long have you lived here?” he asked the store owner.

“Since I was a kid, in the 1940’s.”

“Did you ever know anybody named Arthur Jacobsen?”

“Artie Jacobsen? Yeah, of course. His family used to own the cabin you’re staying in.”

“Was he ever married to someone named Diana?”

“Married? No. That was a sad story. She died while he was in Vietnam. Sudden illness. They were engaged at the time.”

“Does he still live here?”

“No, he moved years ago, I’m not sure where. Why are you curious about Artie?”

“I found a letter in the cabin he had written to her while he was in Vietnam. I just thought whoever wrote it might want to have it.”

“I’ll ask around, see if anyone else knows where he moved to.”

“Thanks.”

Back at the cabin, he perused the letter again. It might have been one of the last things she read from him before she died. Or, she might have already passed by the time it got there. If she had sent him a picture he liked, she was probably well at the time. But the storekeeper said it was sudden.

Artie had loved Diana the same way he had loved his Angie, and she had loved him. but they never had a wedding, or a honeymoon, or any of it. All the great memories he had, they never got a chance to make, and Diana had probably spent the last year of her life in mortal terror of a message being delivered that Artie had died in combat.

And then she got sick and died, and he didn’t even know it had happened until some time after.

When the week was up, and he still hadn’t heard from the shopkeeper (who he knew had his cellphone number) he decided that the letter had been left in the book for some reason, and that he was better off just leaving it there. He never looked again for Artie Jacobsen, but he left Snow Hollow feeling a lot less alone.


Way south and east of Snow Hollow, in a sunny town in South Carolina, a sixty-eight year old man sat, surrounded for the holidays by his children and grandchildren. He smiled at all the noise, smiled at all the mess, and spoke quietly to each little face that came up to him in his red plush chair.

In the same room, on the bottom of a bookshelf, was an undamaged copy of Lost Worlds, one that also contained a letter in it:

Snow Hollow, November 2nd, 1968

My dearest Artie —

The big news here was the blizzard. We got an early blizzard this year, and, even though it’s all over with, the roof took some damage and we got some leakage here at your parent’s cabin. Your father fixed all that, but before than, some water leaked in and damaged the beautiful book you gave me for my birthday. Some of the pages are now stuck together, including the photographs of Egypt that I loved so much. But most of it is intact, and I’m grateful the damage wasn’t more. If you ever wanted to get me a replacement copy, I wouldn’t object to getting the same gift twice!

People ask me about the wedding every day. I say it will be this coming summer, but that we won’t work out all the details until you’re back. However, I do have a dress picked out. I hope you’ll like it. It made your mom cry at the dress shop, and then I started crying. We two were a mess. I love your mom and dad by the way, they’ve been so sweet to me while I’m staying here.

I know you don’t know what you want to do with your life when you’re back, and I’m really sorry if I’ve ever put pressure on you about that. I’m so proud of you, the man you are, then I go an undo all that by making unreasonable demands. Please forgive me.

Your dad took the enclosed photograph the other week while we were down in the village. When it came back from the developers, your mom immediately thought you would really like it. It was a good hair day.

Don’t spend one moment worrying about anything here, just make it home safe. And always know I love, love, love you as much as any girl every loved a boy, and that I will be proud one day to take your name.

All my love,

Diana

 

 

Everything… and Nothing

It was only three weeks, but he was absolutely in love. Love, however, doesn’t always flow both ways.

It had been a late April day when he was stopped after class by one of his professors and told he was needed as an emergency replacement to accompany a flutist at her upcoming senior recital. Her regular accompanist had broken a wrist. So, he showed up at practice room 141 at 5:00 that evening.

He recognized her as a girl who had been in his Advanced Music Theory class the year before, but who never spoke in class. They shook hands, and she said, “Hi. I’m Sarah.”

He introduced himself as well.

“I don’t know if they told you, but, you’re the third replacement accompanist I’ve auditioned in the last three days. The others didn’t really work out.”

I see, he said.

“Well, let’s get to it. Let’s try this,” she said, handing him sheet music. “This is what I’ll be opening with.”

The music was unfamiliar to him, it was a Sonatine by Walter Gieseking, who he knew as a great pianist of yesteryear, but who he didn’t realize had also been a composer. He looked through it, page by page, then turned back to the first page.

How fast? Or do you like to count in? he asked.

“Just watch me and follow,” she said, which was singularly unhelpful.

She picked up her flute and caught his eye, then nodded her head, and they started.


It’s hard to explain conservatory life to people who’ve never experienced it. You have young artists, burning with the desire to express their individuality, but doing so within the heavily constrained world of classical music, where individuality can be a matter of extreme subtlety. Envy is endemic, competition is fierce, and snark is served up with ever meal.

One way of standing out is to write your own music; unless you are Prokofiev, this is extremely hard to pull off. Another way is to perform little known repertoire, which helps you stand out. This was her way.

To him, their practice sessions were magical; they built cities out of music together. He loved the music first, but gradually realized that he loved her. She was completely devoted to her craft. She expressed herself through it. And he saw her, truly saw and heard her.

But to her, he was just some guy, a guy who would either accompany her perfectly or screw up her senior recital. She didn’t really see him — at all. Not once.

When the performance came, it was just like practice had been. They were one person when it came to performing, and he felt it. And the audience felt it. It was electric.

And, to him, it was even more.

But something can be everything, and the next moment, be nothing. She checked off the box of a successful senior recital, acknowledged the applause, performed the ritual of acknowledging her accompanist, smiled in the moment, then left the stage.

And just like that, she was gone, and she never gave him three seconds thought again.

He gathered up his sheet music as the house lights came up and to the sounds of the audience milling about. It was an oddly empty feeling.

That love can be unrequited is well known; that it is almost always unrequited is less known. That the person loved never even knows it happens all around us, everyday. There’s a fair chance it has happened to you, and you never noticed.

For one person’s everything is another person’s nothing.