Time it was …

Old friends, old friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes of the old friends

 

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Photo Credit

I loved to sit in the park and watch the old men play chess. I would study their faces, faces looking like nature had taken a pallet knife to well-worn leather.

It was foreign to me, a skinny kid with no past to speak of yet. Sometimes they would take a break and sit with me, tell me stories of great adventures, of greater tragedy. Tell me of their courageous voyages across oceans or of their losses, a wife gone, a child taken too soon.

An old man once told me that we come to a time in our life when we look back more often than we look forward. When time becomes short and the future is no longer a day dream. When those memories of what used to be seem softer, friendlier.

Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust on the shoulders of the old friends

 old men playing chess

Photo Credit

For all of my childhood and most of my adult life, I lived in and around Sunset Park in Brooklyn or near a half-dozen magnificent parks in Washington Heights and Inwood in Manhattan.

No matter the season, I found solace in the sights and sounds of these green acres that dot the landscape of concrete and asphalt in our city. Deep into the park, you can almost miss the din of traffic, the sudden blare of a horn.  I might spy other old men, backs hunched, shoulders bent, the memory of a pin straight spine as distant as their baby’s cry.

During the year before he died, my dad loved to walk with me to Sunset Park. At fourteen, I did not have the knowing that his time had grown short. Yet, I saved the memory of his face, like precious photographs. Those walks, and the things he told me, are my fondest memories of him. A man whose past had caught up to his future and caught him unaware.

 

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Photo Credit
Can you imagine us years from today?
Sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
 

Of those four crazy Italians who raised me, I have but one left. He is the big guy, the eldest of us three. He dutifully cared for or buried three. He has been a rock and a soft shoulder. And the thought of no longer having that one last anchor in my life makes me feel like an orphan-child. A child with no home to return to, no mother to wipe my tears or mend my scrapped knees, no brothers to fight or play with, and no dad to hold my hand.

And in this place with sunshine and green everywhere, this place with little or no concrete and asphalt, I sit at my trusty PC and think of them and the life we had such a very long time ago.

Old friends, memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears
 
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  Photo Credit

It comes to me on odd nights  to remind me of who I was and who I might yet be. It does not harass me like an old wooden fence that has seen better days. Instead it embraces me like a soft summer breeze and calls me home. Home to where I can remember all their faces and tell their stories so perhaps one day others will know who they were. To give strangers and family alike an immortality that nature cannot allow.

Time it was and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you

(Old Friends, lyrics and music by Paul Simon)

It was a good time, a time that, like fine wine or vintage wood, can only get better.

 

When do we grow old enough
To have a past?

 When do we grow wise enough
To listen to what it has to tell us?

fOIS In The City

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16 Comments

Filed under Random Thoughts

16 responses to “Time it was …

  1. Your writing gets better and better.

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  2. I agree with Lindsay. And it’s so weird – I was singing that song this morning, don’t know where it came from. Apparently, it came from you, before I read this.

    Truly beautiful, Florence. Thank you.

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  3. I love it that you’re preserving your relatives’ pasts by writing about them, letting others know they existed beyond their passing. It’s a lovely way to bring tribute to their lives.
    Thank you.
    Patti

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  4. How is it that every blog post from you brings me to tears? Have you read The Orphan Train? Just finished the book last week and it was absolutely wonderful. There’s an older orphan telling a younger orphan her story for a school project and when she gets to the end, the younger girl says, “But that’s only the first twenty years.” The older woman shrugged and told her even though the rest of her years were good for the most part, all that had defined her as a person happened in those first 20 years. I found myself thinking the same thing, so I think you’re never too young to have a history.

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    • Thanks so very much, Jamie. I read it. Our book club read it. I tell everyone I meet to read it. Orphan Train is one of the best books I read this year and … yes … it brought me to tears. Her twenty years occupy what some might live in fifty. Don’t you love the way they connected to each other? The play is going to be in So.Fl this year. I hope it gets up your way. Some stories resonate with us and that was one for me 🙂

      I am glad you enjoyed my post 🙂

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  5. christicorbett

    I just read the book, The Orphan Train, too and really enjoyed it.

    Another great post, especially since you include your childhood memories along with your tour of New York.

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  6. Hi, Florence. When my kids began to grow, that’s when I noticed my past. I worked at an amusement park in high school and when I took them, they’d ask questions about it. When they began job hunting, I used my experiences as examples. And they were always aware that the greats in their lives fought in WW2. I would love to go to NYC and tour with you!

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    • Oh Vicki, an amusement park must have been a fun first job. Nice memories to pass on to your kids. And if we could ever meet up in NYC, I would take you to Coney Island in Brooklyn … my first experience in amusement parks and the beach. Thanks 🙂

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  7. Beautiful words, Florence. I think that everyone “has a past” at a different age, and it all boils down to our personal experiences. I never knew my grandfather b/c he passed away before I was born. But my grandmother left us in 1997. She was 97 years old and the first of our close family to go. For me, that’s really when the past became more than just fleeting memories…it became important to remember and pass on to our kids.

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    • Thanks, Sheila. I think that is the most important part of remembering our past, that we can pass on our memories to our kids. A way of providing those we have lost with immorality and a way of anchoring our children in their own history 🙂

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  8. Florence – You always give us beautiful prose and sensitive characters to care about. You’ve provided us with visual images that transcend time and place and allow us to travel into our own past. Well done, my friend.

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