On things remembered and forgotten
Some gossamer memory recently unleashed a veritable flood of questions. For some reason, the question of the cars I have owned came up. Mostly — no, totally — the only one in that catalogue that is relevant is the one now in my driveway, but that trip down memory road quickly fostered several others.
How many houses did my sweetheart, Mary Jo, and I share? An easy one: three in Clinton, one in Puerto Rico, one at Mississippi State, two at the University of Oregon, two in Houston, one in Huntsville, Texas, and two in Oxford. Could I remember the landlords? No way. On the other hand, could the misery of moving from one address to another ever be forgotten?
And, of course, the litany of schools. Dissimilar things from each school quickly come to mind, most of them pleasant. Then that memory focused a bit: who was the chair of my department, who was the president of the university? Faces along the way I remember — names just won’t register. And colleagues in general at each school, perhaps three from each place surface in my memory.
Last night I went online and looked at the department faculty of the last school before the University of Mississippi. Only one name showed up, but one I have a face for. I felt that I ought to email him that I wish him well. Fact is, he may not remember me.
At every step through academic life, good friends became a serious part of our lives. Folks whose birthdays we enjoyed. Individuals who were there when medical problems arose. People I didn’t think I’d ever forget but very much have done just that.
As my mind rambled through iterations of this and that and there and when, the idea surfaced that I should have kept a diary along the way, at least to jot down names and a few details. (Maybe all this means that I might be catching Alzheimer’s as I can’t remember so much already?). Wouldn’t it be neat to get a fresh snapshot of each dear colleague once and again? I could see how much better I have weathered time than they have. And, possibly, they would remember to send me an e-card on my birthday.
For a year or so after each move, there have always been sporadic phone calls to check up on this guy or that gal. And perhaps a Christmas card went their way for a couple of seasons.
In time, with no fresh kindling to keep the flame of friendship burning, names and faces and times (good or bad) simply fade away. Would I be happier now if I knew what happened to all the lovely friends I thought I would never forget? Could I afford all the postage and cards at Christmas and on birthdays? Could I really be sincere in admiring their children — grown now! — or the grandchildren I’ve never met?
I think things work pretty well: we meet folks and move on to meet new folks.
Painful memories hurt less, and joyous moments grow happier. (I happily recall the morning in August 1959, when I foolishly let the guys in our wedding take me to the city golf course in Jackson to play golf — which I didn’t know how to play.)
A poem I always enjoyed teaching in American Lit classes was “The Road Not Taken.” And of all that poet’s beautiful lines, these five at the end of the poem still speak to me:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Amen, Mr. Frost!
T.J. Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.