I am the youngest in all the family circles I inhabit. Modern culture puts me a hair behind middle aged, but the elders in my life, the ones who stopped counting after 85 years because it just didn’t matter any more how old they were, say I’m still young. I like to sit and listen to their stories, to imagine a place where women wore gloves to grocery shop, a time when a man could walk away from home and never be found again, and a life without credit reports that track us all. Their stories feed my fascination with Noir novels, with worlds where the lines between good and bad are crisply drawn.
I found out today that I’ll be losing one of the elders in my life, one of my favorite people. Cancer always seems to win in the end, no matter how hard we hate it. I think about him, how he fought in a world war and lived through three others. How he worked one job for longer than I’ve been alive, then retired to take another. There’s a chance (though slim) that I’ll be asked to give a eulogy. I already know what I would say: he took care of his family.
I think of all the men from his era as the same, people who put family first, took faith seriously, and stood up for what mattered. In my imagination they all worked hard without complaining. They took pride in the place they lived and maintained it with their own hands. I know I’m generalizing, life was never as easy or wonderful as we remember it. Memory has a way of painting over the pot holes and smoothing out the rough spots. But that doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could listen to more stories, and visit that time just a little bit longer.