Monday, June 7, 2010

Missing Old Times

I thought time was supposed to dull missing departed people. So I thought. I was always touched when we still had the San Francisco Examiner and each Christmas publisher Randy Hearst published a long poem of his father’s on the editorial page, about the renewal of life, and how water rolls down to the sea and returns as rain. Then he said that he missed his father and he always would. I hadn’t lost my father yet, but I was forewarned.

My father died in December, 2007 – he missed the big financial meltdown, he missed Obama, he missed a much-wanted great grandchild. And I miss him. It isn’t getting any better. I kinda knew I idolized him when he was alive, and fought against him, but it’s just gotten worse since he left us.

I think about how we used to be. I remember when I was in high school, and when I was away at college and knew my parents were there, even when I called home reluctantly on Sunday night – no cell phones, he kinda missed that, too, he was too old when they came – and my Mom and my Dad were on the phones and I said some of my courses were hard, and Dad said, “Well, it’s long distance, so, ….”

And my Mom said, “Henry! He needs you!”

And then my Dad said, “Well, everyone knows that math and science are the hardest.”

I hadn’t even known that I needed him. I never thought I did before. Just knew that I needed to please him or I’d feel crappy. Not that I ever did displease him, so far as I knew. Displease my mother, that seemed easier. I still remember the call; it must have helped, I’m sure it did. Nothing had been particularly hard before, I guess. Except mechanical drawing, and I could always just spend more time on that. But in college we were steaming ahead.

And I remember sitting with my parents and with Betty Jane Lipshutz from up the street, whose daughter Margie was friends with my sisters. Who was it on the TV? It must have been the Beatles, because Elvis came on Ed Sullivan when I was in high school, and this must have been later, when I was older. It doesn’t matter. I just remember they were watching the old 21-inch black and white TV in my parents bedroom, and we heard them screaming, like girls were supposed to do, probably a replay of the bobby soxers. And the parents looked at each other and laughed.

Why does that make me cry? I just don’t know. I do know I miss them.

My first play was Our Town. I was in 7th grade and played Wally Webb, Emily’s little brother. My whole family came to see my one line, “Aw, Mom, by 10 o’clock I have to know all about Canada!” Wrung every emotional note out of it I could. Emily gets to go back and look at the past, against the advice of the Stage Manager. Don’t do it, he says. Oh, but I want to, says Emily.

I can see why. I can imagine myself there right now, just like Emily. I look down on the parents, on me, and I want to say, I’m right here! I love you all! You were so wonderful! Can you hear me?

I love Thornton Wilder. It’s just what I want to say. I can see us all, I really can – and I’m not stoned. True, I’m listening to Beatles music and 50’s music and 60’s music, but I’m not stoned, really I’m not.

Time is such a pisser. We just can’t beat it. I hope they knew how much I would appreciate them, how much I loved them. I know they loved me. And I just realized a couple of days ago how young they were. My Dad was 26 when I was born, my Mom I guess just shy of 24. So when I was 20, they were just 46 and 44, already had 4 kids whom they had sent to private school until we moved to Lower Merion, a summer house down the shore (who knew that “down the shore” was a localism?), a succession of cars, etc. Rock and roll had just come and no one knew how to treasure it yet. No one knew Mad Magazine was a classic. No one knew we’d be flying on jets, listening to IPods, and the world would be getting less dangerous from H-bombs but more dangerous from terrorism. No one knew that the US would get better and better. Now we know. Too late, man! That doesn’t help them now! They couldn’t plan on that, and now they’re fucking dead!

All we have is the present, but I sure miss the past, and I miss my mommy and daddy.

Budd Shenkin


  1. Touching and insightful observations --I'm glad I stumbled upon this blog. I never really made it right with my parents, and I would so like to share my outrage and sadness about today's world with them. But they too are fucking dead. Thank you for the above. I think you and I were in the same class both at Friends' Central and at Lower Merion. A few of us migrated.

  2. A touching reminder to cherish our parents while they are alive. I am recommitted to doing that.