A Forest Of Intentions
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Durham, North Carolina
Behind my children’s eyes lie a forest of intentions. Their take on the world sparkles with an intensity that only youth will sustain. Each day, each voyage fills the stores of their growing memory with the substance of their time that will one day be relived in dreams. I see this in them and other children I know that even though my walk in those fields was in another century, I remember the smell of that spring pasture as if it were this morning.
I would like to tell them to treasure these moments and hold them close in the museum of the heart but they have no need to dust off such keepsakes yet… that will come in time if they are lucky. I was in the Museum Of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia the other day. It was primarily a museum of trains and related vehicles but there was a section with cars in it. I love things like this so I walked into the hall expecting to dance in the midway of the past. My expectations could not have prepared me for my first vision which was of a 1950 Studebaker… my very first car which I got in 1955 and began to drive legally in 1956. Now my Studebaker was a Starlite Coupe… the two door version of this sedan, but no matter… from the front they looked exactly the same and they were the same color. That car was a freedom machine for me. As long as I had enough money for a little gas, there was nowhere I couldn’t or wouldn’t go. Guitar in the trunk, radio blasting, three dollars worth of gas in the tank and off we went in search of life.
Seeing that car opened the door into summer yet one more time and that was only the beginning. On the other side of the hall was a 1950 Packard four door sedan. Both my parents and my grandparents had one of these giants. Mom and Dad’s car was green and had an automatic transmission. Mom started to teach me to drive around the neighborhood in Chevy Chase where I grew up when I was thirteen. On quiet weekends we would drive down into Rock Creek Park. (Even though as a kid we lived all over the world, I am a D.C. boy at heart. That is my hometown.) My grandfather, Benjamin S. Levine, PhD had a black Packard… same year, standard transmission. When I came home from the Philippines in 1958 for my senior year of high school at Woodrow Wilson there in D.C. I brought my Lambretta scooter with me, but when I needed a car, Ben would let me drive the Packard. There in that museum hall in Roanoke was such a car, and that wasn’t all.
Out in the yard with the trains was a trolley car. It looked familiar. I told Vanessa I thought it looked like a D.C. trolley. I went closer and went through the door. It was a D.C. trolley. On the front of the car was a sign touting a trip to Glen Echo Amusement Park with pools and a roller coaster now long gone.
I took that car to Glen Echo to go swimming in the summer. I still remember the sound coins and tokens made traversing the maze of the coin box. I remember the close humidity of the non-air conditioned car… even with all the windows open. I remember the crack of electricity and the smell of the ozone when the trolley jumped the wire. We would come to a stop and the motorman would get out and guide the trolley back onto the wire and off we would go again. The smell of the chlorine in the pool mixed with suntan oil will always be entwined with the sight of the girls we knew from school sunning themselves in the dawn of their lives.
I wandered through the steam engines and cars and I thought how, in 1959, I rode one of the last steam trains out of Union Station in D.C. to Columbus, Ohio on my way back to school in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Steam travel is now a quaint oddity for summer excursions on historic railroad lines. Then, it was still just transportation.
Some of my band mates from the tour showed up about then. We all wound up talking with the ticket taker guy who was about my age. When I told him about all the touchstones of memory surrounding me he pointed out that you know you’re getting old when all the things that were important to you as a kid can now only be found in museums. How true… how true!
I think of these things from time to time. Bill Haile, who was my best friend when I was a kid has now been dead a number of years. I miss our occasional reunions. We led different lives, but in the end we were always friends. His passing has left a void in my life even though we rarely saw each other. Like my Uncle Art, now gone for a number of years, like Mom and Dad… the passing of time places them in a hall of memories that, when opened, not only allows them to enter our hearts but gently reminds us of the precious moments we are given to share with those we love here on this side of eternity.
Behind my children’s eyes lies a forest of intentions. It is a precious forest filled with first growth. We were all there once as we walked in that wilderness seeking a place to build our lives. Behind my eyes lies a commitment not to forget the past and a veiled perception of the road I would like to follow into the future. Between what is gone and what lies ahead, I am blessed to say that there is nothing wrong with today. As I look outside my hotel room window here in Durham, I see I-85 with traffic rushing north and south. I would rather be home on a day like this, but I shall be home again before too long.
The sky is a pale blue and the clouds are undefined splashes of white gauze stretching to the horizon. I can see that winter is relinquishing it’s hold and that another spring is on the way.
I look forward to it.