In Perseverance of Dignity
It all took place on a bench in one of those slowly marked days in August, a town park in upstate New York, the afternoon light giving that special amber tinge to the air with a snap of cool breeze that separates the summer from autumn heat. It was the late summer of 1948, Ithaca, New York.
This summer was a common summer. The years in full swing after the war, the young and the tried returning home, a new dawn beginning, and an age ahead. Even the green leaves on the trees seemed almost surreal with an extra kick of green and levity of fall coming about with the heaviness of loss soon to come in the changing of the guard, autumns strip-tease to winter.
The park seemed altogether filled with question that particular day, more older people than younger, a lady with a cane passed slowly sneering off to her right as some children rushed by, screaming, playing tag as children often do on a Saturday afternoon. Her head slowly moved back to measure the steady steps taken, glancing back again as youth had passed her by. There were the lovers, the couples, and the man with a child over his shoulders celebrating the newness of the day and a golden dawn, new ideals and even fantasies.
A child with a balloon passed. His mother carefully monitoring his attention with a loving care giving dotting grace, one that only motherhood itself could have,
There were the couples that passed. On this day there seemed not to be the ephemeral grace of exchanged hands among many, but that simple urban stare that kind of accounted for people being together but not lively stepped with love as seen in other days of Spring.
A couple passed with a grocery basket. The man somewhat reluctantly carrying the burden as his wife steamed ahead, heavy paced and filled with weight on each step of her flat shoes which had accordingly a metronomic pace. The husband was ruled by his queen, her sharp voice staggering as she called to him, questioned him, and he returned only a glib mumble seemingly annoyed, They passed and then the parade of school children passing on a bench, music from the breeze carrying with it the spirit of youth, as the joyous day passed in this park at this time. There was no cause for concern when the policeman passed either, he bid me good day with a tip of his hat, some sailors too, home from the holidays. In the distance one could here the carousel begin to play, watching in the playing of the light-shadows of trees the precedence of reality manifest a unadulterated laughter and perspective for the future, a golden age and a golden day.
And so the notes of the day went down in my journal, I a writer seeking context to life, this meaning writing long hand at the description of that which passes before me.
So is life.
One is child, one is young and filled with childhoods youthful spirit. Love comes, it chases and completes its mission, leaving middle age accountable as all the fires of youth begin to dim, as gravity begins to sink in and day just pass, one upon another until the battery of old age seeks worrisome comment about any age before its own, seeking the luxury of seniority, a sabbath before the final rest-bit of death.
For in old age, There is no cure found, as youth has past and even the sun seems a shade less bright, its rays less streaming to the expertise of seniority. But there is a dawn my friend! In the light and the shadow play there is the gift of time, and this lovely day to experience all that God has to offer us, all written, and perceived in a notebook of drama....
(The rest was water damaged, that journal from 1948, its cover damaged by the wreck and metamorphosis of time, the end pages moldy now...I put it aside for a moment to breath one moment in the same place 60 years in the future from the same bench)
It was the same kind of day, that may father spoke of in his journal, this date, late August 2008, in Ithaca New York.
I assumed this was the same bench, or likely a replacements-replacement. I Arrived here and sought out the summers of 48 as a memento only to gather memories which I never had, but only perhaps my genetic. Along time had passed since that old journal had been written. It sits by me there, besides me only to perceive the present...if this, or time can encourage such thoughts now. The book being written as I write in scrawled letters, unedited upon the page in the summer of this year 08.
Where is the gayety? Almost one person has passed in the moments leading to this time, I sitting on this bench, reflecting on time as though it was here and now '48 being a distant relative to the present, and I in my slumber of moments hold the stylus as to engrave the page with letters as though bearing witness but...not really. It is all a story being made.
There are no children here anymore.
A few older people have passed, a group of very professional looking suit-men, a woman whose stilettos grind heavily forward. They are looking for the endgame of course, the goal-post, the entourage of Corporates to follow, eyes firmly planted ahead, their suits neat as military dress. But a smile or courteous look around, it is not to be seen. Where are the smiles, balloons, and playful children, to grace the grass.
There is a sign: Keep Off Grass Regulation...234-494 City Code etc)
Perhaps they are planting it, or just planted it, that ocean of green, vacant but superior to what I imagine in the past was here.
I looked for this spectacle. It did not last long, and few knew of its whereabouts, rather turning their heads and not to mention a word between transactions when I asked at the Quick Mart, over there...Of course it was new, probably a replacement for some house that stood and was demolished, the neighborhoods changing as they do. But the Carousel?
Ah, one person mentioned at the library. It was condemned years ago as well as the bandstand. I believe it was the 70's when the hippies moved in to the park, the neighborhoods changing as they do.
Someone said “Maybe there is a place-card of where it once stood!..”
And of course I did find it, etched deep into stone, blackened by the wear of years, the copper etched out, and the marker set in stone.
I knew I was in the right place. Having a gist of a feeling, that all that had changed are the times.
Today was a cooler day, may have been. There is a certain tension as a group of swaggering youths pass and greet this way as an invitation to hassle, but they get another idea. One has a ghetto-blaster with some beat-bop music trudging along, another is plugged in and turned on through over large headphones, his eyes twisting around in his head as his noggin spins around to the beat of the music.
Sounds of police sirens are heard in the distance...and slowly a cruiser makes its way up the pathway, the lights off, two officers clad in blackened shades, looking for someone suspicious as they come up and pass, slowly...their faces appearing like firmly entrained robots.
They stopped a little ahead.
In sure they spied me sitting and writing. Unsure of any rules for staying too long on a bench in a park may be considered a change of the game, the so called loitering laws.
But they were not looking back at me, rather at another group of young ethnics people gathered near a tree, that looked daunting...I suppose.
I don’t know.
Then there were the older men and one couple that passed nervously making pace for the other side of the park. They were being passed by three bikers in their streamline Gortex uniforms, yellow with a black stripe, each identical, no engagement, one word between them spoken.
There was the street skater who passed too. She was plugged in to her matrix, certain of what was ahead.
But, after all I had been an hour and a half here, and have seen little of the descriptions of 48'.
Times had changed, and of course it all seems a requiem as to why I sat here on this particular day to pass between an old worn out journal and the new one that was cast in front of me...that one, only to be an old one...one day.
I stretched out my legs a bit, buried the journals in my knapsack and walked around, taking a deep breath of air as though gasping for some reason for this back play of time, and this forward hunch of a recordists journal writer, hoping to capture the same elements in different time frames.
Setting my mind I ease I returned to the bench, all aside and on the ground I stretched out my arms a bit and looked about to see no one this time passing, except a gray figure, an old man with a cane walking in the distance this way.
The author of this is young. This I am writing in bold context of some myriad whim that the author is an experienced writer...no this is not, But journals carry, they make pictures, and like a snapshot armature camera this writer is now struggling to convey the next instances in clarity (after situations occur, in the courtesy of notes, written on the authors mind, as he experienced them later that night in the motel where I stayed)
It was that shadow of the figure moving from the distance, the gray suited man with a fedora hat that seems so complex and out of place, but this is what became, something dynamic and something of a haunt that would perplex, rather than simplify any unity to these journal entries.
That old man, is not wavering in his steps towards me, and pretty soon, pretty soon indeed he is going to be upon me and passing me. But this is a common thing after all, unless he staggers in front of me and asked one simple question: What am I doing regarding the past? And then what am I to say to him in metaphor, for as approaches there is a feeling of guilt, deep inside of something missing, an episode peculiar to this writing, particular to this story.
And he is standing before me!
Lifting his hat his long worn face seemed like thin porcelain in the sun. He did not make eye contact but stood there, wiping the beads and little rivulets of sweat from his forehead with a pristine white handkerchief. His face seemed like father time had been personified, his face filled with long etchings of time that each had a causal and effectual relationship to the old man.
And some kind of tension I was feeling, as he lifted from the inside of his coat a back of Chesterfields in a brown package. He twirled it in his hand, and between his fingers lost excess tobacco from the filter-less cigarettes. The old man punched the stick in his mouth, spat a bit, and lit the obnoxiously smoking pyre, turning his head away to look in back of him as he guided the smoke in my direction, its smell heavy and laden with the essence of something old, tense and bitter.
I could see his hands, large and heavy packing heavy weight to his face as he cinged his lips with the ungrateful straw, smoldering between his stained fingertips. But I was not obvious at my look, rather generally glanced that direction, feeling nervous that this man was going to say something about “time” and that I would not have an answer, or set his stick against the bench and entrench a conversation of some kind, which he did with little hesitance in that order.
He turned around, placed his cane one food from me, his eyes not gazing in my direction and slowly made his decent to sit on the bench right to the side of me.
His head panned the park like a old warden, desperate to keep solidarity with the world around him. Something was heavy in his face, but was it those deeply calibrated and set eyes or my imagination. And then they went my way...
“The smoke is not bothering you....” his voice, ancient but gravely in timber spoke forward with absolute certainty of I catching everything in his proposed question, which was an ultimatum in his directive.
“Oh no, Its alright...” I answered, still smelling the prickly head of smoke drifting my direction and ungraciously spiking my olfactory. I was lying.
A bit of time past nervously. His silence seemed like a deep pool of mercury, heavy and obviously beckoning me to initiate a conversion. But I was hesitant.
And then the words moved, deeply from some place, his staggering voice, in wavering equipoise seemed to snatch the moment for a conversion to occur.
“ Where bouts are you from...” he asked me, his head scanning to reach my eyes directly.
I hesitated a bit, but came forth. “Here on a tour, kind of a memory lane episode....” I answered, smiling cheerfully, “My dad was here in 1948 and I returned this summer to kind of rekindle memories from one of his journals...”
A bead of sweat began to bubble on my temple as some matter of seconds or two minutes of added silence was added before the continuation of the conversation.
“1948...” he continued, almost piercing out the numbers as he slugged his cigarette on the ground and ground it into the dirt. “ I lived here all my life...remember 48' quite well...” he churned.
I showed him the old journal, and unwrapped it from its newspaper covering. He took it seemed to thresh the pages back in a scan as if in order to find some intense reading. “Yes” he paused, “Describes this park rather well in those days. I came back from Germany then....times have changed.”