|Anno Domini: Memories like starlight|
|December 02, 2016 Jerry Purvis|
Life moves on from stage to stage. End of line, turn the page.
I wrote that more than 20 years ago as a poetic form called villanelle. The piece carried the title “Elegy for a Few Friends.”
I used those lines to introduce my column in the first edition of the Citizen on May 20, 2009. I gave the column the title Anno Domini, Latin for “the year of our Lord”
That seemed a fitting title to me, as the birthday blessing in the Book of Common Prayer declares that all our times, our years, our entire lives, are in God’s hand. He’s even there through all the changes in our lives, the happy ones and especially the scary ones. That’s comforting for me to know as I turn another page in this fascinating story called life, toward a future still to be determined. But I know it will be a good one.
Over the past seven-plus years, I’ve visited and revisited some of my favorite remembrances on the pages of the Citizen. For a last time, I’ll share some of those treasured memories, those laughing ghosts from Christmases, New Years, holidays and holy days past that sometime cross my mind.
In some aspect or another, we’re all historians. It happens every time you ask a friend, “Remember when …?” It could happen in a brief moment when you remember collecting S&H Green Stamps. Or catching fireflies on a summer evening. Or spending an entire day playing with the neighborhood kids.
It can even happen when you drive by an empty lot and remember when a dilapidated, old house stood there – one all the kids thought was haunted. There was one of those in my old neighborhood.
History isn’t just found in books. History is our lives.
It always seems those memories come into clearer focus at this time of year, when I’m looking at another year that went by much too quickly. And depending on when I look at them, those memories happened either yesterday – or a hundred years ago.
Although my age was in the single digits for the entire decade, the 1950s is where I grew up. It was a time in our cultural history when the days made more sense. It was a time when business was done with a handshake, when God hadn’t been evicted from our schools and our public square. School kids started the morning with the Pledge of Allegiance – and no one took a knee. It was followed by a non-sectarian prayer to thank God for our blessings and ask for His continued guidance.
I remember it as a time when people tried to live up their own best expectations. Yes, there was real segregation of groups at that time, but society seemed to be on the same page as to what were the goals – for people, for communities, for America.
Others might think I’m just trying to paint a smiley face on our culture because I won’t dwell on all the rotten things we’ve done. But it really depends on your perspective.
Perhaps those who only see the negative might feel self-righteous about trashing the culture for being so repressive, or patriarchal, or a host of other indictments, real or imagined.
But I’d rather think of all the good we’ve accomplished. I see no percentage in carrying around a litany of past societal grievances that would only make me angry and bitter. I’ve already worked with people like that. We already have people like that in government.
I’ve always been up for diatribe as well, bewailing the coarsening of our culture. Thanks to my parents, who went through both the Great Depression and World War II, I came away with a real appreciation for the more civilized music of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.
I had the opportunity to hear the Glenn Miller Orchestra live several years ago in Scottsbluff. About halfway through the show, I had to turn away for a moment and hope the people I was with didn’t see me tearing up. I’d just thought how much my mother would have enjoyed being there that night to hear the music of her youth.
The memories that make up the tapestry of our lives is woven from both joy and sorrow. We can’t have one without the other.
The gentle sounds of those big bands spread across the nation thanks to another 20th century invention – radio. It kept people from the largest of cities to the smallest of towns connected with the world. Maybe they were huddled around the radio’s glowing dial as they listened to the news that the Empire of Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. Or maybe it was a cold winter night as the family listened to The Shadow as he exposed the weed of crime that bears bitter fruit. Or maybe it was Fibber McGee and Molly, who touched the heart of America and kept us laughing even in the dark days of World War II.
The professional cynics would say those old radio shows were hopelessly out of date and naïve. While some of the shows did paint an idealized picture of society, it was a picture the public accepted as something that was true. The values portrayed in those shows were things like the premise that crime didn’t pay, that good would triumph and lawbreakers would be brought to justice.
Tragically, those values seem to have vanished into the ether along with the old radio shows. You can still find those old radios in antique stores and at sales, but the shows and music they now pull in really aren’t worth listening to.
Other columns celebrated the road trips down the backroads of my youth. How in 1926 Route 66 opened up the American West to the people and how a small Minneapolis company created an iconic advertising campaign by dotting those backroads with signs for Burma Shave brushless shaving cream.
Our love of the road and the internal combustion engine that gave us mobility also veered off into another direction with the 1933 creation of the drive-in theater. What used to be just movies became cinema under the stars – and drive-in theaters became communities, if only for a few hours. Of course, it was a time when people enjoyed being around each other.
Sadly, those times, that little boy, are gone now. They only exist in memories. But I await the day when those memories, those people will be returned to me even more real, more vividly than they ever were in this life. Soon and very soon.
So I would urge us all to hold onto and cherish our memories, for in a very large way, they define who we are. As recording artist C.W. McCall said, memories are like starlight – they go on forever.
Thank you for reading over these many years. I wish you a blessed and joyful Christmas season.