Retirement is a context conducive to creation, where memories come out of nowhere and hit like a dart to the heart. Their power is paralyzing, and leaves us standing still with shallow breathing. We are stunned by the clarity of these recollections, and how each and every detail seems etched and outlined in sunlight. In fact, it is light which dominates these remembrances. Everything is just so bright it sparkles.
I am walking the streets of my old neighborhood, purposefully retracing the path I took to Roosevelt Elementary School. I love nostalgia, and I admit to the compulsion of inviting the past in for visits. Still, some memories clobber me with their intensity, as if I were wincing from witnessing an eclipse.
Today, I suddenly recalled walking to school the day after the Milwaukee Braves defeated the infamous New York Yankees in the World Series. I believe all Wisconsin eight year old boys had a skip to their step following this heroic achievement. Several days were spent recounting the magnificence of Burdette’s three victories, Henry Aaron’s and Eddie Matthews’ power, the sure gloved Johnny Logan, and Del Crandall, the rock behind home plate. It was literally all anyone talked of for months, and at age eight it kept me spellbound for a full year.
I was wearing new shoes. They had a lightning bolt down the side. I rocked. I was the best boy dancer in my class by a mile, and I was fantasizing asking Marilee Serbus to go steady with me - I heard she might kiss. I was floating on the shimmering crisp autumn air of late October, and was swollen with so much excitement and hope and promise. I clearly recall the orange and red trees on Carter Street and LaSalle, and how I strutted past the sixth grade crossing guard before entering the playground path to Roosevelt.
My teacher was Mrs. Dykstra, and at least once a week I walked her home after school. She was kind and easy to talk with, so I thought I'd ask her what she thought of one Marilee Serbus.
She told me about our project for Christmas, this being the gift we would create for our parents with our own two clumsy hands. She said it was for the dinner table, and to protect the finish when we set down a plate of hot stuff. She said it was to be a large sunburst made out of tongue depressors, like those used by doctors to look down our throats. She said there would be colorful Christmas beads separating these large popsicle-sticks, and it would be just beautiful. It sounded like something I might actually be proud to give to my parents – That would sure be new.
In my memory, I said good-bye to sweet smiling Mrs. Dykstra, and ran home. I was so fast, as fast as the Braves centerfielder, Billy Bruton. The air was so clean against my face, and I waved and yelled at all my buddies as I flew by. My Mom was at the back door, and announced we were having my favorite “Steak & Fries” for dinner. I gave her a quick, not too unmanly, hug, and raced to my room to sort out my baseball cards. I had four Lew Burdette’s. I could trade for any card I wanted. I was on top of the world. I think I was levitating.
No matter how you slice it, retirement is jammed with memories of a golden childhood and the infinite promise of being young. It is staggering to know just how fast the time had gone. We are repeatedly dazed by the recognition that those days of simple wonder and awe and joy are gone. We can recall them with such sharpness and resolution, but then they fade and melt away just as fast.
There is no avoiding this sobering phenomenon. Time is a blitz, and we often get sacked by these transparent limpid memories. Where did it go? How did it fly by so quickly? When did I begin to get old? These questions seem so silly, and yet, they are the mantra of retirement. Even if unspoken, these questions are written upon our faces, and emblazoned on our chests. Like the letter sweater or jacket we coveted as a teenager, our lost youth is worn every single day upon our brow.
1957… The year the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series! The year I came to know the leap of joy, the ecstasy of being the best, and the certain hope of better things to come. Unfortunately, in 1958, when the Braves lost in the World Series to those same Bronx Bombers, letting a three to one game lead fritter away, I got my first real taste of despair. They call it maturing, but I still call it hell.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.