“How do you remember?” she’d asked. “How do you recall such rich detail of things so long ago?” I avoided the question, answering a part of her words to me that weren’t a question but a statement. The truth is, my detail is a part of the pain of having cancer. It’s the sadness of not being able to do so much, and inevitably and inescapably being drawn to the times when I was invunerable. That’s what kids are; they’re invulnerable.
At least they used to be. I’m not so sure they are anymore. All of the laws and attitudes so different from when I was young. Shoot, by today’s standards I think my folks might have been hauled off to jail for some of the things they did. Things I considered to be privileges. When I was fifteen they sent me up to Canada to a town called Roberval. It was in Quebec Province and I took a train up there to the city of Quebec. I found my way to the Chateau Frontenac, a beautiful hotel in the french tradition. There I met an intermediary who put me on the bus up to Roberval where I went to a camp that spent two weeks teaching me camping and canoeing skills. Then they loaded me up with supplies, partnered me with another kid my age and turned us loose to find our way up to Lake Mistassini, some rugged hundred miles north into the arctic watershed. We paddled our way across the many lakes, carrying the canoe and our supplies between the lakes until we finally arrived. We spent a few days on the giant lake, meeting Cree indians and talking to the people who clustered around the Hudson’s Bay Post sitting aside the water. Then we turned around and made our way back. I don’t hear about kids doing things like that anymore. I haven’t met any parents, aside from myself, who would allow their kids to find their way in life, getting acquainted with their own skills and abilities and learning the ways of life. I think my parents did me a wonderful service. I passed this on to my children and it doesn’t seem to have hurt them in the slightest. It’s true that their adventures were much more urban than mine were though.
But the thing of it is that I loved those times. They weren’t painless, you shouldn’t get that idea. I dealt with the self same problems that I think all kids did. About how we fit in and what others in our peer group thought of us. The exquisite pain of puppy love –unrequited of course. The fights within the family and the pressing past of the rules which got me grounded or doing extra chores. I had to face school and the work and anxieties it produces both socially and educationally. In other words, my childhood was pretty normal. But it was normal for the times I lived them, and while ifferent than today, there were similarities. Youth isn’t supposed to be a walk in the park because the various pains we endure are part of the way we became rounded and grounded. Kids who grow up in the lap of luxurious privilege, in my experience, grow up to be unrealistic butt brains.
I spend a lot of my days just passing time. I’d rather be more active, but I can’t. So I spend a lot of time admiring the lives of others and having things remind me of “the good old days.” And they come back from someplace in my mind with great clarity and substance, the smallest details popping up. Of course, the years have ground some of the detail into oblivion as well, rounding the corners and scuffing the surface as to perhaps obscure some things as well. The majority of my memories are fond. I really don’t want to recall the hardships and agonies of my youth. I prefer instead to mask the daily pain and upset of today with the joys and freedoms of so long ago –now more than half a century away. I was a different person in a different country. At least, that’s the perspective I have now. I am very firm in my belief that this is not the same nation I grew up in, the same one I fought for. Maybe it’s because of the cancer that I see so much around me with a jaundiced eye, but I really do believe that we used to be a much kinder and more generous people, a more simple people than we are today. I’m not so sure I like this nation as much as I did the old one, but again, maybe that’s because I treat the memories as such precious commodities. They are a balm as powerful and perhaps more than the drugs they give me to defer the pain of my rotting insides.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t find any happiness in the present. I am lucky in many ways. I have my family and my friends, my needs met to at least some degree by the government (although some in the government want to take it away –even as they swear their support for troops). But for the present I have a home to live in, food to feed me, and a doctor who tries his best to keep me comfortable. I have the Internet and television –although sometimes I find it hard to distinguish whether they are pleasant or curse as I seek content amidst unending and mindless commercials and a consistent beckoning to try this or that website with nekkid and willing wimmins. Gak. Feh.
So I guess as I consider the original question; how is it I recall so much, I have to say because there is so very much to recall. nd of all of my possessions in this fragile life, they are perhaps the most precious –and so I keep them polished and shining and nearby.