John Andrist: Some Memories Never Fade

Dreams and nocturnal thoughts are a source of mystery to me. So often they appear through a thicket of cobwebs we never dreamed could be penetrated.

This morning I awoke thinking about Gene Rettler, who was part of my early childhood. As children of the depression kids picked up companions early in life, because we didn’t have any material things.

It was also a time when dads and moms were too busy trying to scratch out a living, so they didn’t have time to play with kids. So we would get up, eat a little breakfast, and go out the door in search of pals.

Gene lived with his mom and grandparents. His birth was partly accomplished through the philandering of a neighbor who had a wife and family of his own, and was unable to make an honest woman out of Gene’s mom.

Gene’s family was really poor. I remember his grandpa walking around with such a severe hernia it was clearly visible through his bib overalls.

They lived in a tiny house with an attached shop. The nearest luxury they had was an outdoor WPA toilet that was very close to the back door.

Those four were the entire family. He talked about an uncle who had died from “lock jaw”, the common term for tetanus. As a 6-year old it gave me some nightmares thinking about a guy dying because he couldn’t open his mouth.

We were fast friends for a few short years, and the relationship was pretty much over before I became a teenager.

We played a lot of vacant lot softball. That’s because we didn’t have gloves to play baseball, and partly because if we could ever get our hands on a softball it was old and battered and looked more like a small round pillow than a real ball.

I thought my pal had a tough existence, because his mom had a penchant not only for spankings, but making him go find the stick himself.

Sometimes she would say, “You are going to get a licking tonight”, so he could think about it all day.

It seemed pretty sadistic, but he seemed to take it in stride: “Gotta go now, and get my whipping.”

There was nothing remarkable about that boyhood relationship. We were just pals for a few short years, and then drifted apart.

He grew up, married, moved away and died, and it is perhaps 75 years since we last played “one-a-cat” together.

So now, when I’m an old man and can’t tell you about anything I did last week, why am I waking up thinking about Gene?

There are so many mysteries of the mind. But one of the interesting things is that most people who populate our distant memories are pleasant folks. Even those who were not pleasant are more often the subject of amusement, rather than disdain.

Do you suppose after all the vitriol of this (thankfully) ended presidential sweepstakes we will one day look upon this time with amusement?

Playing memory games

We play a lot of memory games around this retirement community I now help to populate.

The fears that accompany aging are as much about mental deterioration as they are about the physical. And of course, we have living examples of both here where at 85 most of my neighbors are older than me.

So we have a good many brain stimulating programs and activities. Sometimes they call them brain games.

For example I think about all kinds of things to write about each week, but I rarely write them down, thinking if I practice enough I may remember one of those ideas when I sit down to write. Someday it might work. It hasn’t yet.

I suspect our brains are more on our minds than they are in your household where you can mostly take for granted that your brain will be about the same next week as it is today.

At least it is so for me. That probably is the reason I have this compulsion to keep spinning a new column each week. Brain candy.

When I no longer seem relevant to you, do me a favor. Don’t tell me.  And don’t tell your editor either. Just laugh and humor me, like we do to each other here at Touchmark.

It reminds me of the post- election lament of Adlai Stevenson, after he had been defeated by President Eisenhower:

“I’m too old to cry, but it hurts too much to laugh!”

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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