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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
Nov. 13, 2009
/ 26 Mar-Cheshvan 5770
With age comes an increased awareness of what used to be. Mental pictures from the distant past grow sharper, more in focus almost than more recent events. The images are clear; the voices strong and resonant; and the tastes and smells are as keen as ever. I've come to understand that what has gone by is not really gone at all; it is, all of it, still here within me, within reach. I have only to give over my mind, allowing a slight opening for the images to enter and there they are - rich and precious and alive.
Vivid memories such as these do not visit themselves upon the young and middle-aged adult so much, undoubtedly because at those ages one's head is filled with too many thoughts of the present and future to accommodate the past. But once the future has been dealt with, once the present becomes commonplace, the mind relaxes and welcomes back the old friends, family, and places that used to be. The past which was at one time the present has returned to the fore. Those details of my life that had been preserved and locked away for safe keeping are released, taking their rightful place as significant events in my mind.
Celebrations such as birthdays, holidays, and vacations are there as are some less happy times, though not as many. The mind has a way of filtering out a lot of negative episodes and retaining the positive ones. My first real kiss is sharper in my mind than is the day I went downtown to the induction center to take my selective service physical.
The images in my head of my mother and father are among the most cherished. Once again I hear their voices, I see their faces, and I can still feel their arms around me. In my mental pictures they are healthy and happy. My father telling jokes. My mother singing Yiddish folk songs. Singing and laughing. They had a healthy capacity for laughter and they liked to make me laugh with them.
I see my brother and sister, not the way they look now, the way they looked when they were young. Here comes my little sister running after me, wanting to be a part of everything I did. After mom and dad I was the one she ran to for, well, for anything I guess. And there's my little brother giggling as I tickle his belly. He had the sweetest laugh.
I see my wife on the day I married her. She was so beautiful and so very happy. Her eyes sparkled that day and her infectious smile was reflected back from every face in attendance. I remember holding her in my arms, dancing with her, thinking I'd want to hold her like this for the rest of my life. She never left my side that day even though the place was swarming with relatives.
Places and events find their way into the corners of my mental scrapbook such as my grandparents' house, my kindergarten classroom, my father's old Buick and all the houses I lived in growing up. I can see myself swimming in our pool completely outfitted with the snorkel, diving mask, and swim fins I was given as an elementary school graduation present.
Ultimately it is the everyday, non-event events which pop into mind, such as sitting with my father in front of the television laughing at Laurel and Hardy movies on a Saturday morning. Or mom's grilled cheese sandwiches made in a cast-iron sandwich making contraption which sat on a range top burner and toasted the sandwiches in the shape of a flying saucer. And with a bowl of tomato soup on the side there was no better tasting lunch.
Smells from the past linger in my mind. Everyone's house smells different, did you know that? Each of my relatives' houses had their own unique odor. The best smells came out of my mother's kitchen. And my Uncle Donald's restaurant had wonderful smells, unlike any other restaurant I've been in since. Mom and Dad each had their own personal scents. Warm, comforting, safe scents. And as individual as fingerprints.
I'm grateful for what I can recall although I wish I could remember more than I do. I'm not complaining mind you. I realize there are many who have lost their ability to remember anything at all and that is terribly sad. The storehouse of memories which come to play with me in my quiet times is the true treasure of my life which no amount of earthly possessions could possibly match. Sounds corny, but it just happens to be a fact.
In life it's an important thing to look to the future, it keeps you going, gives you something to look forward to, a reason to get up in the morning. It's just as important to live in the present, to live everyday as if it were your last, making every hour count for something. But the person who doesn't take pleasure in his past is like a person who works all his life and puts nothing away for retirement. He has an empty bank account.
My own personal photo album is conveniently located in the bank vault right here in my head. It is an annuity like no other and such a nice warm comforting place to visit, especially when the cold winds of the present kick up.
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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