Those before us have had much to teach us. We all learn in different ways. One of us may have heard something, another not. Details are lost, whole chunks of time are lost. When we get together, though, one person's memory will probably pull open the stop on another's, letting memories bubble out to be shared. Collective memory.
Here is a wonderful piece written by Michael Gartner about his family. He was an editor of newspapers large and small and president of NBC News. In 1997, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.
Do you think his brother remembered all of this in the same way? Or did they enjoy sitting and chewing the fat about all they had seen and learned over the years?
You could substitute a lot of different people into a lovely story like this. Some, like Herman Morton, could carry a story on their own if a group of Bunker Hill people were sitting in the Reflections coffee shop or standing and leaning on the counters at Den's Country Meats with coffee in hand. Do you remember the time that Herman.....I don't mean to pick on Herman. You get the point.
MICHAEL GARTNER REMEMBERS
My father never drove a car. Well, that's not quite
right. I should say I never saw him drive a car.
He quit driving in 1927, when he was
25 years old, and the last car he drove was a
"In those days," he told me
when he was in his 90s, "to drive a car you had
to do things with your hands, and do things with
your feet, and look every which way, and I
decided you could walk through life and enjoy it
or drive through life and miss it."
At which point my mother, a sometimes salty
Irishwoman, chimed in:
"Oh, bull shit!" she said. "He hit a horse."
"Well," my father said, "there was that, too."
So my brother and I grew up in a household without a
car. The neighbors all had cars -- the
Kollingses next door had a green
1941 Dodge, the
VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936
Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black
1941 Ford -- but we had none.
My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines, would take the
streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3
miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my
mother and brother and I would walk the three
blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk
My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was
born in 1938, and
sometimes, at dinner, we'd ask how come all the
neighbors had cars but we had none. "No one in
the family drives," my mother would explain, and
that was that.
But, sometimes, my father
would say, "But as soon as one of you boys turns
16, we'll get one." It was as if he wasn't sure
which one of us would turn 16 first.
But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did,
so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950
Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts
department at a Chevy dealership
It was a four-door, white
model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with
everything, and, since my parents didn't drive,
it more or less became my brother's car.
Having a car but not being able to
drive didn't bother my father, but it didn't
make sense to my mother.
So in 1952, when
she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to
teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby
cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the
following year and where, a generation later, I
took my two sons to practice driving. The
cemetery probably was my father's idea. "Who can
your mother hurt in the cemetery?" I remember
him saying more than once.
For the next
45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was
the driver in the family. Neither she nor my
father had any sense of direction, but he loaded
up on maps -- though they seldom left the city
limits -- and appointed himself navigator. It
seemed to work.
Still, they both
continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout
Catholic, and my father an equally devout
agnostic, an arrangement that didn't seem to
bother either of them through their 75 years of
(Yes, 75 years, and they were
deeply in love the entire time.)
retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning
for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with
her the mile to St. Augustin's Church. She would
walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would
wait in the back until he saw which of the
parish's two priests was on duty that morning.
If it was the pastor, my father then would go
out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at
the end of the service and walking her
If it was the assistant pastor,
he'd take just a 1-mile walk and then head back
to the church. He called the priests "Father
Fast" and "Father Slow."
retired, my father almost always accompanied my
mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he
had no reason to go along. If she were going to
the beauty parlor, he'd sit in the car and read,
or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have
her keep the engine running so he could listen
to the Cubs game on the radio. In the evening,
then, when I'd stop by, he'd explain: "The Cubs
lost again. The millionaire on second base made
a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so
the multimillionaire on third base
If she were going to the grocery
store, he would go along to carry the bags out
-- and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream.
As I said, he was always the navigator, and
once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still
driving, he said to me, "Do you want to know the
secret of a long life?"
"I guess so," I said, knowing it probably would be
"No left turns," he said.
"What?" I asked
"No left turns," he repeated. "Several years ago, your
mother and I read an article that said most
accidents that old people are in happen when
they turn left in front of oncoming
As you get older, your eyesight
worsens, and you can lose your depth perception,
it said. So your mother and I decided never
again to make a left turn."
"What?" I said again.
"No left turns," he said.
"Think about it.. Three rights are the same as a
left, and that's a lot safer. So we always
make three rights."
"You're kidding!" I
said, and I turned to my mother for support.
"No," she said, "your father is right.
We make three rights. It works."
But then she added:
"Except when your father loses count."
I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off
the road as I started laughing.
"Loses count?" I asked.
"Yes," my father
admitted, "that sometimes happens. But it's not
a problem. You just make seven rights, and
you're okay again."
I couldn't resist.
"Do you ever go for 11?" I asked.
"No," he said "If we miss it at seven, we just come
home and call it a bad day. Besides,
nothing in life is so important it can't be put
off another day or another
week." My mother
was never in an accident, but one evening she
handed me her car keys and said she had decided
to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was
She lived four more years, until
2003.. My father died the next year, at
They both died in the bungalow they
had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years
later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother
and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the
tiny bathroom -- the house had never had one. My
father would have died then and there if he knew
the shower cost nearly three times what he paid
for the house.)
He continued to walk
daily -- he had me get him a treadmill when he
was 101 because he was afraid he'd fall on the
icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising --
and he was of sound mind and sound body until
the moment he died.
afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me
when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town,
and it was clear to all three of us that he was
wearing out, though we had the usual
wide-ranging conversation about politics and
newspapers and things in the news.
weeks earlier, he had told my son, "You know,
Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier
than the second hundred."
point in our drive that Saturday, he said, "You
know, I'm probably not going to live much
"You're probably right," I said.
"Why would you say that?" He
countered, somewhat irritated.
you're 102 years old," I said..
said, "you're right." He stayed in bed all the
That night, I suggested to my
son and daughter that we sit up with him through
He appreciated it, he said,
though at one point, apparently seeing us look
gloomy, he said: "I would like to make an
announcement. No one in this room is dead
An hour or so later, he spoke his
"I want you to know," he
said, clearly and lucidly, "that I am in no
pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as
happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever
A short time later, he died.
I miss him a lot, and I think about
him a lot. I've wondered now and then how it was
that my family and I were so lucky that he lived
I can't figure out if it was
because he walked through life, Or because he
quit taking left turns. "
Life is too
short to wake up with regrets. So love the
people who treat you right. Forget about
the ones who don't. Believe everything
happens for a reason. If you get a chance,
take it & if it changes your life, let it.
Nobody said life would be easy, they just
promised it would most
likely be worth it."
Enjoy life – it has an expiration date.