As the COVID-19 pandemic intensified in March, Paul Taylor launched a collaborative writing project that was inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron. Boccaccio wrote his collection of one hundred stories in response to the devastation caused by the Black Death sweeping across Europe during the fourteenth century. The following story was written by UBC member Bob Bass as part of the Decameron 2020 project.
Time Stretches Out Before Us
Time stretches out before us, follows along behind.
Each day measured out in precise increments,
Tracking our movement around the sun,
reduced for our convenience to the face of our watch.
Our memories, however, reflect how time actually passes in our life
and our imagination can only ruminate on what may yet come.
In the present, we are confounded constantly by the certainty of the
past, the unknown of our future as we experience time thru our senses and emotions.
I recall sitting in the back seat of a baby blue 1954 Pontiac Chieftain,
Sitting beside my brothers, and seeing the back of my parent’s heads, my sister blocked from view below the top of the seat. Most likely on the way to church, I see this as clearly as if it happened yesterday, but for the life of me,
I can’t recall the name of the fellow I just spoke to and avoided introducing that other guy…” what’s his name” as well. My short-term memory seems shot to hell but, ask me about the Yankee lineup in that 1956 World Series and Don Larsen’s perfect game, which is the first thing I recall watching on our first Sylvania black and white TV.
That TV served my folks’ home well till it was replaced by our first color box, a 20” Sony just in time for the Watergate hearings in May of ’73. Barbara Jordan’s profound voice “my faith in the constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total, and I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.”
Howard Baker’s question “what did the President know, and when did he know it?” that led to the fall of a President, but 45 years later, we sorely missed those voices of reason, when another President ignored the constitution and thumbed his nose at congressional oversight. So, in response, “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”
Simply turned our back to facts, and changed the channel to watch “The Voice” or “Ellen’s Game of Games”. Time and history are said to repeat themselves and at least in my lifetime, they have. Sadly, time doesn’t bring back people. I’d love to ask more questions of my folks, who as a resource for family history I sadly did not use nearly enough, and when we were dividing up the remains of their lives.
We had boxes of pictures of family members we no longer recall, and there is no one left to put names to the faces or tell the stories that make up the warp and woof of our family fabric and lore.
Stories of bygone days that seem remote at times, so near at others, you can smell the memories as they enter your mind. Take my grandfather, who lived to ninety-six, he had stories to tell.
Of his early days as a boy, gathering buffalo bones for sale in Amarillo, where these bones could be seen from a distance, stacked in white pyramids like ancient Egyptians might have seen in ages past. Bones were shipped east by rail, and returned as fertilizer for use on the prairie ground my family was busting up for farming, earning hard currency exchanged for lumber to build their first frame houses, as they emerged from sod dugouts shared with snakes and bugs.
Or the coming of irrigation to the arid High Plains, pulling water from a vast sea you could not see, produced by the roaring sound of automobile engines, robbed of their wheels, put to work on the farm in place of oxen, horses and mules who had for ages before pulled wagons and buggies and plows, replaced in the blink of an eye by times’ relentless march toward progress.
Stories of my father who left the farm to fight a war, climbing down from a tractor seat and up into the bomb-bay of a plane called the Liberator. Dropping bombs on an unseen enemy in jungles below and wondering just how we had won a war without ever actually seeing the people on the other side, ants at best, 20,000 feet below.
Or memories of my maternal grandparents, who were dirt poor dirt farmers, struggling to simply stay alive through the depression, my mother mocked at school by city kids, for her worn-out shoes and dresses made from colorful flour sacks, her shame at the mocking laughter haunting her years later. My grandmother’s resentment forever held against bankers who called their notes
And threatened the sale of their land to satisfy only what she saw as pure greed.
Who cried when the name FDR was mentioned, because she felt he had saved her family from starvation and allowed her eventually to live in comfort that she always seemed ashamed to actually enjoy, washing her dishes by hand before trusting a machine.
Times like these are known to me by reputation, and my own experience, which was easier, largely confined to playing sports, chopping cotton and working on our farm, fast cars and high school sock hops, working my way thru college and then law school, student loans and debt, and then realizing one day that I was grown, on my own, a lawyer, with a wife and three kids and reaching middle age.
Along the way, I’ve worked on hot rooftops, driven trucks, and in political campaigns, met Senators and Governors and such, movie stars, and mass murderers. Defended some, prosecuted others, known all sorts of people, some I so dearly loved back then, but who today are gone, down into the ground, remembered only for their place in that slow, inexorable line we call time.
The light at the end of the tunnel, now, seems from here to be getting closer than I would like. Not yet ready to join my friends and family, down there in the ground, but hoping to see them again “Up there”, as we are told, where we will someday rejoice in reunion. But besides the name I share, I am seeing my Papa Thrane all too often, these days, in my own reflection in the mirror.
Shocked that it is not his ghost, I see, but my own present, that image so quickly much older, the only real evidence I have of the passage of time, but for the memories of times long past, still fresh and clean in my mind. Sometimes triggered by music, other times by smells, often emerging unbidden for no reason at all.