Monday

December 18th, 2017

Insight

Perishable moments

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Nov. 28, 2017

The Nobel-Prize

I'm writing this after rewatching a beautifully crafted movie called "A River Runs Through It." It's about trout fishing, which is like saying "Gone With the Wind" is about the Civil War that divided this indivisible Union for four long, terrible years.

Or maybe the movie is about two brothers. Or maybe it's about memory.

All your faithful correspondent can say is that it taught me a great deal not only about trout fishing but about how fleeting our time is in the evanescent world we share, and to be aware of how precious that shared time is.

Mentally flipping through the various scenes of the movie the way one would a family album, its golden moments inspire one response after another.

I once went trout fishing in Kezar Falls, N.H., with a couple of college roommates. What I didn't know about trout fishing was a lot. But they did their best to teach me, if to little avail.

I once had a brother. Time and his heart problems conspired to estrange us toward the end of his life, for he had been deprived of oxygen during his heart attack. But there was a time in my golden youth when he tried to steer me right and I paid rapt attention to his every word, move and gesture. I can see us perched on the front steps of our house in Shreveport, he handsome and knowing, and I a burly kid proudly holding our father's air-raid warden's helmet. All was right in our tight little world then. I still hold on to that image.

We two brothers had a big sister who married a Yankee and went off to New York City with him. I miss her still. Her husband was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, just across the Red River in Bossier City, as a clerk-typist. Their wedding at our house still shines in my memory, for which I am thankful. She and her new husband shone with hope and pride, and so did my father and mother, having just married off their girl.

My mother's pale blue eyes shone again years later when I graduated from the University of Missouri at Columbia, then a small college town instead of the bustling city it's become. It's not that Ma was much impressed by college graduations. She'd already seen my brother graduate from LSU with a law degree. But I was not only getting my master's degree in history but being commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army Reserves.

Immediately after the graduation ceremony was concluded, we graduates doffed our black academic robes, under which we'd worn our uniforms, and stepped forward to accept our first salute. We were all sure to drop the customary dollar bill in the hand of the noncom doing the saluting.

And you could see what my mother was thinking as surely as if it were spelled out in a thought balloon above her head. She had grown up on a battlefield of the First World War in Poland, unsure whether the next morning would reveal that her father's mill lay in territory occupied by Russians either red or white, German Freikorps or Polish troops. My mother might as well have spoken out loud at that moment: At last we have an army of our own in this land of the free and home of the brave! To the day of her death, she would allow no criticism of America in our house. When my father would be so bold as to complain about the taxes he had to pay Uncle Sam, she would give him what we in the family came to know as The Look, more eloquent and concise than any of the various languages she spoke poorly but sharply.

All of those golden moments came flooding back in an instant. I should have known they were too fleeting to last. For they should have been labeled: Perishable. Handle with care. The kind of moments you want to capture in a snapshot. But now as this Thanksgiving Day approaches, I can write about it all so that my kids and grandkids and all their progeny will know how grateful I am for the most perishable things in life, which may also be the most precious.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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