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
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
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.
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
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?