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Well, I am back. I did manage to post on the ever-joyful topic of gout during my trip, but otherwise stayed mum.

And I have to say that this post is about as Off Topic as a post could be, and it does not really go anywhere at all. I am tempted even now, having written it, just to delete it. If you read this, you will know which way that issue turned out. (If you do not read this because I deleted it, well, you will remain forever in the dark on that particular point, which is probably not a tragedy.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A couple of weeks ago, I was down at the spring house mucking out the winter silt, and my son walked by on the way to the bus stop for school – it was about 6:15 AM; the bus comes early up here on the ridge – and suddenly it hit me. A couple more months and Tom would be moving out, heading off to college, and the world would change, and I – well, truth be told, I would really miss him.

And I thought, “What the hell!”

So I said, “Hey, Tom, did you ever hear the song ‘As I Went Out One Morning’ by the great Bob Dylan?”

“Yeah.” Tom is pretty phlegmatic.

“Do you know what it means?”

“Well, right now it means I am missing the bus.”

“Sometimes you miss one bus in order to catch another.”

Tom knows me pretty well. He slipped his pack off and set it down, squinting at me in the early morning sun.

“Tom, let’s hit the road and figure it out. And in the process let’s look at some colleges.”

“Right now?”

“This very minute.”


You can see why I like Tom so much.

So we put Tom’s pack in the spring house, up high away from the water and damp soil, and walked down to the truck, and off we went. I keep a go bag in the truck, in case an angry husband or a revenue agent shows up someday, and an eighteen-year-old boy doesn’t need much – basically, he wears his go bag wherever he goes.

We drove down the rutted dirt road and soon came up on my youngest daughter, walking fast – she always leaves a few minutes before Tom because she likes to hang out with her best friend at the bus stop for a few minutes before the bus gets there.

I stopped and she hopped in the back – I don’t usually let her ride back there, but she could see today was a bit different. We drove on down to the main road, dodging the big ruts and trying to avoid the worst of the high weeds. When we got to the bus stop, none of us said anything; Sammie just hopped out and watched as Tom and I drove away.

And off we went to New England, by way of Morgantown, Cumberland, Allentown, New York City, and points north and east. Tom called my wife when we hit Hagerstown to let her know what we were up to; I figured I would defer a direct discussion until after she had had a few days to get used to the idea.

And let me segue here for just a minute into a valuable lesson for our younger community members. Right now, your emotions burn bright. Love, anger, joy, desire – for you, these are all primary colors. But in about forty years, all of that will fade, and your palette will hold mostly pastels. In particular, even if you encounter something that fires up a primary color, it will fade pretty quickly – bright red will soon be mild pink. So, if you are going to do something irresponsible in your declining years, do not stand tall and face the consequences immediately; instead, buy a little time and let your spouse’s anger fade to irritation.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I was twelve, my parents decided that we would move to the West Virginia high country. I guess things were not working out so well in the city; in those days Irish immigrants were not really welcome in many places.

So, when the weather turned and the roads thawed, we started spending weekends up on the ridge, my father and mother looking for work and me hanging out at the high school, which had a playground and was near town. And in the nature of things in those days, I got to know some of the local kids – a process that involved some wrestling and some racing and a lot of jawing.

After one hard race, we were lined up at the fountain, one kid pumping while the rest of us drank, and I had my shirt off, and suddenly I felt a cool hand on my back. I looked, and it was a girl with short brown hair and the prettiest brown eyes you ever saw. She was tall and thin and had freckles, and smiled with her whole face, and she said, “You are hotter than blazes, Rich.”

And nothing ever felt better than her cool hand on my back, and I smiled back. And things were suddenly different than before.

Her name was Barbara, and she was also twelve, and we enjoyed a couple more weekend visits —just the way twelve-year-olds enjoy such things -- before my father finally landed a job that would commence at the end of summer, right when school started.

So our weekend visits ended, but I looked forward to seeing my new friends in a couple of months, especially Barbara.

We moved to the ridge in late August, and I went to the first day of school, but Barbara was not there. She had fallen ill and could not come to school.

It turned out that she had been in remission from leukemia, and it had recurred. She was being treated in Charlottesville, where they had excellent medical facilities. She was not able to see visitors, even if they could get there, probably because of immune system issues. So I did not get to visit her.

She died that winter.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

We apprehend the world that is, and remember the world that was. This is useful but unremarkable; I imagine that apes, dolphins, even dogs and crows do a version of the same thing.

But we do something else, something that sets us apart. We imagine a world that never was, that never could be, and give it flesh, and imbue it with a peculiar form of reality. In this one sense, we live outside of the universe we inhabit, and surpass it.

We imagine what could have been; even more, we imagine what could never have been.

In one of the most brilliant passages ever written, T.S. Eliot explains this peculiar human characteristic:

What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

Burnt Norton, by TS Eliot

A world that never was – that never could have been – can be real; it can influence the world in which we live; it can mark us, and change us.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So Tom and I seized the moment.

Possibly I was influenced by a world that might have been but never was – by a deep emotional appreciation that we are given today but have no assurances as to tomorrow.

Or perhaps it was simply the early morning sun and grand feeling of sweat on one’s brow on a fine spring day . . . .

In any event, our trip is done.

We have, I believe, solved the mystery of Dylan’s obscure lyrics.

We have seen many places and done many things.

Tom has accepted an offer of admission from a college that he really likes.

And, perhaps due to the mellowing effects of age, or possibly due to the scarce supply of adequate replacements, I remain married and have some hopes of the eventual restoration of various privileges appurtenant to said status.

All in all, a good trip.


A Drumlin Daisy
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