Tuesday, February 6, 2024


This is not how the original photo looks.  I've colorized it.  It becomes more "real" to me this way, more three dimensional.  Hillbillies at the beach--dad, mom, and my mother's sister.  I saw this photograph for the first time just a month or so ago.  My mother's sister had given it to my mother with some other photos just before she died.  It was an anomalous act, my mother said (not in those words), as her sister had always been stingy with her.  That is the way with hillbillies, though, at least sometimes.  When you haven't much of value. . . . 

We were on the poor side of middle-class though my parents both had good, stable jobs.  There was income, just enough.  And we were a family of three.  My aunt had, at that time, anyway, two children.  She didn't work and her husband often changed jobs.  Like many hillbillies, family was also friends, and we spent more time with them than with other people.  They had followed us to Florida a year or so after we moved there and settled in the same town.  My uncle, however, was offered a job on the coast, and so they moved.  And they moved several times, first to towns on the Atlantic, then to towns on the Gulf.  We spent many weekends traveling back and forth to their homes for the weekend, and we did pretty much what you see here--hung out on deserted beaches and fished.  My cousins were younger than I, and I considered them "kids," so we didn't really play together.  As an only child, I was used to being alone and entertaining myself.  I had always, it seemed, been in the company of grownups.  I knew how to listen quietly and observe silently.  I learned to be "adult."  

I knew we were hillbillies even then.  

There is my father with a beer.  He liked beer, but he rarely drank.  He didn't drink during the workweek at all.  On weekends he might have a couple of beers.  My aunt and uncle didn't drink, so they considered my father a bit of a. . . what?  I can't find the word for it.  My father was a sweet and helpful and generous man.  He loved to laugh and tell jokes.  He enjoyed life and had lived with more adventure than anyone we knew.  He was a story teller.  He had endless stories.  By and large, people adored him.

But memories are like this picture.  Colorized.  Memories are famously unreliable.  There are studies to prove it.  The further into the past they fade, the stronger the telescope we need to view them.  The perspective becomes foreshortened.  Everything around the memory blurs.  The thing itself becomes enhanced and colored by our subsequent experiences.  Yes. . . memories are elevated things.  Nothing can ever be as bad or good as they seem to have been.  

It is important to keep this in mind always if you want to enjoy the present.  That is what I have learned, at least.  Do not compare what you are doing with what you have done.  It won't help.  

"This just isn't as good as the one we had in Paris, is it?  Remember how great that was?"

I learned that in large part from my dead ex-friend Brando.   He would swill some mediocre wine and wolf down some average meal at a local cafe and order more, lean back and spread his arms and praise the day.  

"Goddamn, man," he might say, "you need to learn to enjoy things.  Drink some more wine.  Look at these flowers.  Don't be a pain in the ass."

Of course, it was true that he had done many things he didn't really relish remembering, but it was an important lesson, nonetheless.  

I dated a girl once who, after we broke up, started dating an attorney.  One day I ran into her and she said, "Let's do something.  We always had so much fun.  We had adventures.  My boyfriend wants to eat sandwiches at home on the weekend and watch golf.  C'mon. . . let's go.  I'm tired of lawyer dick."

We had fun together, that's for sure, but I was never in love with her.  I think she ended up marrying "lawyer dick" and they settled down into a bland but comfortable life of temperate pleasures like so many couples I sometimes do but mostly do not envy.  They will have pleasant memories, I am sure, but it will be like watching the movie "Parenthood."  Steve Martin.  Remember?  

I preferred "Shop Girl."

We live, we accumulate memories, and then they are gone.  We are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves, by the stories others tell.  We pick and choose.  As James Salter proclaimed, "The one who writes it, keeps it."  Who photographs it, too, I would add.  The hope is that those things will outlive us.  Some of it.  Maybe.  If we are good.  But not much of it.  Hardly any.  You just have to put it out there and hope that someday someone will stumble upon something and say, "My gosh.  Look at that!"

As Jake tells Brett in The Sun Also Rises. . . "Isn't it pretty to think so."

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