Driftwood

It’s graduation week at my old school. My nephew graduates Sunday; if I’m recalling correctly, it will be 32 years to the day since I did. He’s our first nephew, and I can remember how, shortly after he was born, I calculated that he’d be in the class of 2010. It seemed unimaginably far away in 1992, and now it’s here.

The week I graduated from high school was not an especially happy one, as I’ve written before. (Out of all the writing I’ve done, the piece I miss the most is the journal I kept the last couple of weeks of the school year. At some point just after college, I tried converting it into a more lengthy memoir, but gave up and chucked the whole thing into the trash, including the original journal. I’ve mourned its loss ever since.) And so I wonder how the world looks to my nephew this week—if he’s looking backward at all, or if he’s focused on more immediate concerns. A little of both, I’ll bet, although the state track meet is undoubtedly getting most of his attention, and he’s not as self-dramatizing as his uncle was.

The Mrs. and I have no children of our own, so we watch our nephews and nieces grow, and we measure our lives by theirs. It’s not just living vicariously through their experiences. It’s re-living too.

Another of our nephews is ending his junior year. At the end of that year, I was in love, and I felt like I had life pretty much figured out. That was the summer I started off by working at the gas station and the grocery store, but early August I had quit one job and been fired from the other. Got your life figured out? Not so fast, kid.

Still another nephew is wrapping up eighth grade. Sometime that spring—and it might as well have been the last week of May—we had that fire in our house, the one that reshaped the whole summer.

A couple of our nephews just turned 10. Like they are, I would have been wrapping up fourth grade. One of them is deeply into sports, as I was. The other is a bright, earnest little guy who reminds me of myself, nurturing his pet obsessions and eager to be liked. Let’s hope for his sake he doesn’t go full geek over the next several years, as his uncle did.

I have one niece and one nephew who are turning eight this year; one is finishing second grade and the other first. In my life, those years were time without a calendar, as all time was before the fall of 1970. In first grade and half of second, I rode the bus to Lincoln School, and I can still walk the building and its playground in memory, though the building and the playground are both long gone. Midway through second grade, many of my friends and I transferred to newly built Northside School, which seemed like a great adventure then, but was also a lesson in the profound effects of change.

How many kids are left to count? A nephew who’s six, a niece who’s five, a nephew who’s four—representing years that are hazier still, first days of kindergarten and days before that, toys on the dining room floor, overnights at Grandma’s house, and back to the very beginning of everything.

Their most memorable days will come. Somewhere out there is a boy who will be my eight-year-old niece’s first love. The 10-year-olds are going to lose track of some of the closest friends they have right now; some will be found years in the future, but others will be gone forever. And the oldest, the graduate, will one day calculate the graduation year of an important newborn in his life, think it seems unimaginably far away, and then be surprised at how quickly it arrives.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when, just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, the laptop music stash shuffled up the song below. For several weeks in the late fall of 1978, it was on the radio along with Justin Hayward’s “Forever Autumn”—and if there’s ever been a better pair of songs about time, memory, and loss to run the charts at the same time, I don’t know what it is.

“Time waits for no one at all/No not even you/You thought you’d seen it all/You thought you knew.”

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8 responses

  1. I went back and read your piece on graduation and it really rang a bell. The happiest part of high school graduation for me was knowing I’d never have to go back to that school again. The actual act of graduation was anti-climactic. I had – at the last minute – applied to one college, got in and was going because I thought I had to. All I really wanted to do was be in a band, and that didn’t work out either.
    You see the archetype repeatedly about the super wonderful graduation followed by an appointment with destiny (via college) in the fall. When your life follows none of those preassigned steps, you often wonder if you’re doing something wrong.
    But I guess life is just weird like that sometimes.

  2. I’m close in age to many of my nieces & nephews so we’ve actually gone through many of life’s milestones within rather swift succession. My oldest niece & nephew are only about 5 years younger than I am. My nephew became a father before I did. The youngest of my nephews just turned 13 this year. And my daughter is just going on 1 year old (June 1st) so there’s a bit of a gap between kids there.

  3. I turn into a sentimental old fool every time I see that A T & T commercial on TV with the children’s drawings surrounding buidings and streets and a voice-over that says,”Remember when you were five, and anything was possible?” Well…it’s true. There is nothing quite like a vivid imagination to go along with a youthful exurberance. Now, if only I can re-capture it.

  4. This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. So enjoyable…and heartfelt.
    My, but do you ever put time in perspective. And the song choices were exceptionally fitting. I have always been partial to Forever Autumn…but both songs rangle high on my pleasure chart.

    I visit your blog regularly, though I’m notoriously bad about commenting…but I have derived much insight in your…sharing songs as they have come to connect with your life.

    Again…this post blew me away. Made my heart beat a skip. The mark of a great writer.
    When I think of the word…bittersweet…this post you shared with us all will come quickly to mind.
    Good stuff!

  5. I’m about to get ready for my daughter’s HS graduation tonight and remember my own like it was yesterday. Scary.

  6. Nicely done, with two perfect songs. But now I’ll have “Driftwood” running through my mind the rest of the evening, making me more than a little misty-eyed.

  7. Another outstanding post. The punchline to that old graduation greeting card – “Ask me how smart I are! – has more than a kernel of truth to it. All of that book-learnin’ has its place, but there’s no substitute for the laboratory known as the real world.

    Justin Hayward was born to reflect upon those wistful mileposts in one’s life.

  8. Driftwood–One of the best songs ever, and not just because I’m a huge Moody’s fan. Good call by including it.

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