My father will turn ninety-three this coming December, and he remains the greatest person I’ve ever known. He is patient, sage, caring, intuitive, and he has the unique ability to say “you are wrong” gently, in a way that is soft and not penetrating. He remains the one person in my life that can make me examine decisions and allow me to correct wrongs.
I consider myself a very lucky man to have had this father. I have spent most of my life striving to become half the man he is, and I awaken every single day trying to make him proud of me, as the only true mirror I own is when I see myself through his eyes.
I have noticed sadly that his world has gotten so much smaller through the past decades, as his health has declined, and his fear of the unknown has accelerated. It’s almost like the line in “The World According to Garp”, where Garp is advised to “beware the undertow”, as if something unseen is about to sweep him out to sea and into impending danger.
These days, his world consists of four walls, a TV, and the knock on the door when the gentleman arrives delivering his “meals on wheels” lunch, the only sustenance he requires lately. As many of us, he fills his lonely hours reminiscing about his past, his years in the service, my deceased mother, those funny, charmingly memorable moments that we all remember, and perhaps those people that were important in his life that have now departed.
As his world shrank, the only things he has left are those memories.
Earlier today I was stumbling through Facebook, and happened to return to a page devoted to Phillips Candy, that store that once occupied the Surf Avenue entrance to the Stillwell train station. I don’t even recall why I am a “friend” of that particular page, as it’s been many months since I happened to go there to read the postings.
I was smiling at the memory of their dark chocolate marshmallow clusters, and the chocolate covered raspberry bars that I would occasionally purchase either on my way into the station or departing at the end of my day. There were postings about their chocolate chip cookies and the egg creams that they once served, though I have no personal memory of either.
Evidently, Phillips Candy is an ongoing concern, now conducting business in Staten Island.
We are an unusual group, I suppose, as so many of us have shared memories of those childhood days in Coney Island. Today, as we straddle sixty years of age, I guess it’s comforting to note that somewhere they are still selling those cookies and marshmallow clusters, people are sipping those familiar egg creams, and all is pretty close to the way it was when we were youngsters. Somewhere, there are people walking our beloved boardwalk on a hot summer day, occasionally coughing out that heavy afternoon salt air that filled our lungs when we were kids.
Some kids are sitting in the first or last car on the Cyclone, still ignoring the warning signs and raising their hands during the sharp descent, just as we did those many years ago. Some tiny tot is holding her mother’s hand and is walking into the swirling surf on the our still beautiful beach, still screaming at the shock of the first cold water against her tiny feet.
Someday, for many of us, all we will have are those four walls, that TV, and those distant memories. We’ll sit alone and feel the foam of that egg cream against our cheeks, remember those green benches in the “Big Park”, recall the debate over whether Leslie or Junior was the best athlete in the projects, wonder why on earth the city felt the need to assign “Nat the housing cop” to our tiny three-block property, recall the giant snow mounds that the plows would leave at the intersection of 29th and Surf Avenue, and we’ll pass our remaining time, likely in solitude.
We’re not there yet, my friends.
Until then, let’s know that those warm memories we have, some rekindled by this blog and Facebook and other social media, are real, and rich.
Until then, let’s live large. Let’s laugh until our sides ache, love until it hurts, and cry deeply. Let’s eat and drink merry. Awaken in places you only dreamed of as that kid in the projects decades ago. Hug your loved ones and remind them how important they are to you. Be that person that fills a room when you enter.
Some of us are fortunate enough to still have our parents, and we know through them that as the years pass, our world will shrink in size.
Unless we are stricken with dementia or Alzheimer’s, we’ll have more than enough time to remember that sick feeling we had when we were polishing off the last of that “Kitchen Sink” at Jahns, or when we’re picturing the painted cinder block walls of the “Y”, or when we were enjoying the double feature at the Mermaid Theater.
Live grand. Be great. Look forward, with occasional peeks at what you left behind.
And, more than anything, don’t fear the undertow!
For my old, dear friends,