The truth is a battle of perceptions. people only see what they are prepared to confront.
The oddest things seem to stick in one’s memory, vignettes of sorts, funny little remembrances that seem simple, in some cases, and of a revealing or resonant nature in others. Some of my snippets of memory seem to be benign in most ways and sometimes possibly even like pointless snatches of conversational lint from days long past. Some only have meaning — by way of hypocrisy, foreboding, omenation (it stays), or revelation — as seen in Life’s figurative rear-view mirror. These are some of the bits of memorial lint I keep picking out of the navel of that which is my mind. There will later be a quiz as to the inherent meanings, or not.
All during my childhood my parents had these particularly close friends whom I will call Roy and Agnes. We prefaced their names when addressing them with Aunt and Uncle till we were old enough to use first names without being “fresh”, and though we used these familial titles we were not actually related.
Roy and Agnes lived about 2 hours away and once every few months we’d pile into the family car — at one point a yellow station wagon with contac paper-y wood paneling and a few dent-y flourishes that I was to young to appreciate as a half-formed person striving to conceal my meager life in a very wealthy town — and go for a visit.
At other times the family car was either a white or dark green late-model VW beetle into which all 5 of us would cram; me in the rectangularly-upright luggage space behind the tiny back seat because I was the smallest and also because my younger brother, “Norman” — a seemingly well-mannered yet very insecure and delicate boy — would be absolutely aghast at having to suffer the indignity of sitting “back there”, and so I always took that space so as to avoid the ever-crumpling face, which prefaced the inevitable tears. Norman also cheated, egregiously, at Monopoly, yet my older brother and I were forced to play with him anyway because of the delicacy, the crumpling and the tears, but that does not figure into this story.
Roy and Agnes were snappy, funny, edgy even, and hilarious. Roy had a little plane and once flew over our house and did flips. I think it must have been pre-planned because I happened to have all my neighborhood friends assembled and proudly fibbed that “I go up in his plane all the time, I even get to do flips!”, though I’d not have been allowed to do any such thing, not ever.
It was always nice to see them and never ever dull. They had a snappy rapport and both gave as good as they got. I idolized both of them, and would send long letters to Agnes, as a little blogger with an assortment of Aunts as my audience, for most of my life. Yet of all the fun times we had with them in various places, one sticks out; we were driving to an air museum, just Roy my father and me, and were in Roy’s huge boat of a car. It was not fancy, just huge with a long hood. Roy was being his usual hilarious self and yet his mood entirely changed when I asked why there was a small glazed ceramic flag pin stuck in the middle of his speedometer. Roy then launched into a tirade about, ” All the *&$%@ people who drive over 55″, (these were the Jimmy Carter years of gas conservation by way of “optimal speed limit”), and explained how he’d glued that pin right at the 55 mark as reminder for the what and why of the speed limit, because at least he cared about our country. I’d not ever noticed this sort of over-patriotic righteous behavior in any adult, and was somewhat shocked, as his ceaseless chastisement of all other drivers seemed unhinged, overzealous at best, though I snickered at the language and the fact that my father seemed unwilling or unable to rebuke him for it.
For the rest of the ride Roy continued to unleash a torrent of spicy indictment on every driver who passed us, punctuated with sign language and expletives while, for effect, I clutched my imaginary pearls in horror, as my father’s jaw twitched. The air museum was a bust as both adults seemed tight-lipped and so our tour was a perfunctory one, followed by an oddly quiet ride home.
Over the years I saw less and less of Roy and Agnes though I kept up my letter-writing. The replies were often brief, consisting of, “Please write more letters” (the standard, and sometimes only, reply from my chorus of letter-receiving Aunts), news of marriages and grandchildren, and commentary on the weather.
When I heard the news that Roy had died I immediately thought of that one day and the behavior I’d neither before nor after seen. I also remembered all the good times, the plane buzzing over our little house, and the laughter. Yet I noticed that my parents were unusually silent when I asked about the funeral arrangements, which seemed very odd as all I’d ever heard was how my parents, “thought the world of them”.
I pushed till I got the story; Agnes had made her daily trip to the hospital to see Roy in what would be his final hour, and had found the woman from the house next door — the house next door to the one she and Roy had shared for 50 years — at his bedside, sobbing and holding Roy’s hand.