Our telephone doesn’t ring much anymore. Calls that once came regularly from family and friends have gradually diminished to a scant few. It seemed a crowded world back then. Whole families were intact and friends were everywhere, near and far. Today their ranks have thinned considerably and the world seems an emptier place, a lonelier place, devoid of a joy once taken for granted. It’s the price exacted for living a long life.
It’s consoling to know that, while we are made poorer by the loss of our loved ones, we are made richer by the memories they leave us with. Their voices, words and laughter still resonate as we recall whole scenes and experiences that come back to haunt us and strangely comfort us in quiet moments or just before sleep. All the perceived flaws and imperfections we may have once embraced, the grievances and grudges we once harbored, have been stripped away, leaving only the essence, that particular uniqueness that belonged to each alone.
Calls from parents asking what we were doing for this or that holiday, or if we needed any help or a favor, or how we were feeling, or how our finances were holding up – any number of things, from important events to mundane gossip – are only whispered memories of happier times.
So many friends, too, no longer call. Friends like John, who needed to vent over every bad-weather Buffalo day we’ve had over the past 40 years; Nick, who would implore me to come over to watch some classic movie he’d discovered, or simply to listen to him play by ear a medley of tunes from out of the past; Harv, whose unique view of life centered on the dictates of his heart and soul; Duane, who never tired of reminiscing about our teenage years with the gang at Angola or Point Breeze, where we gathered on the beach and sang songs, such as “Jada” and “Swinging Down the Lane,” to the strumming of his ukulele. Biaggio, too, whose raspy-voice accounts of his frequent conflicts with strangers always made great stories.
Taps have been played for a couple of military buddies with whom I had been in contact with over the past 60 years. Tony from Rhode Island was most nostalgic of all. Having hit it rich, he invited a dozen of us vets to his daughter’s wedding 20 years ago, where he sat with us all night and virtually ignored the other 500 guests. Yesterday was beyond his recall, but he remembered every detail of our duty in Texas and Japan. He was on the phone calling me the day he had a fatal heart attack.
And Doug, originally from Binghamton, a proud disciplinarian who, over the years, kept me informed of his son’s progress from preschool to his graduation from West Point. Doug Jr., now a base commander in Belgium, called recently to tell me his father was nearing the end. Fortunately, my wife and I were able to make the drive to Florida in time to talk to him in person once more. The memories we shared were priceless, but the connections have been permanently broken. Those memories are now mine alone.
“And from Love’s shining circle, the gems drop away.” So goes a line from Thomas Moore’s “ ’Tis the Last Rose of Summer.” Metaphorically apt, yet, though we drift farther apart on the current of time, it is paradoxically bringing us all closer together. It’s a hopeful thought.