My dad used to drive this black pick-up truck with a red velvet interior. It’s maybe one of the first vehicles I can remember from our childhood. The interior smelled like his tobacco that he used for his pipe. He would tape a calendar and other notes to the dash, and rumbling noises from the engine gave off more of a motorcycle vibe than that of a truck. Even just thinking about it now, it feels as “home” to me as the first house was that we lived in.
I remember the blue sky, and the cool breeze, that came pouring in on a summer’s day. No cares in the world.
My grandfather, on my dad’s side, liked to tinker with engines, and his backyard was filled with old lawnmowers, weed-eaters, and the like. If you were to walk beyond the graveyard of long-lost engines, you’d get to a place where the grass stopped growing and the red mud clay went on for a few hundred yards. If you kept walking far enough, there was an old abandoned school bus stuck in the mud, the kind from the 50s and 60s whose shape was more rounded than the buses we have today.
I remember feeling ashamed for straying too far from the house to explore the bus and coming back home, covered in mud. That shame seems insignificant now.
My first real love was a “girl next door” story. We’d grown up together. As kids, we’d wait for a big snowfall, the kind of snow that doesn’t happen in Tennessee anymore, and after we’d built a snowman, we’d go to one of our homes and “thaw out” near the fireplace. By the time we were in high school, I took her to prom. We’d come to each other’s windows sneaking about at night and share notes with one another on the window pane, in a time before there were cell phones.
I remember her button nose and her silky, blonde hair and the way I picked on her as a child and teased her constantly, and I remember a bad break-up. The whole relationship, from start to finish, seems so important for what it was in that moment, and so distant and less relevant now.
We used to have church plays, mostly musicals, set on a plywood stage in the gymnasium, made up of all the kids and youth in the church. They were intense productions for a small Tennessee Methodist church well-lit and with professional sound. One in particular included a singing songbook named Psalty–a blue Bible who took the parables and sayings of Jesus and put them into song with lyrics like, “Don’t build your house on the sandy land, don’t build it too near the shore; well, it might be kinda nice but you’ll have to build it twice, yeah, you’ll have to build your house once more!”
I remember one Christmas doing one of those productions, and during a dress rehearsal, a mother came in with horrible news that one of the kids had been run over by a car and killed. I think that was the first time I can recall encountering death in any meaningful way. It seems just as sad now.
These vignettes are just snapshots, momentary blips that have crossed my mind lately. I could’ve written a thousand different ones, all just as significant to me.
It isn’t quite a “life flashing before your eyes” kind of thing so much as I’m finding myself recounting how, in this changing world, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that all these past moments have lead to this one, this current reality, and what those moments have become is changed “in hindsight” or “in light of” a world of unrest and pandemic and death.
It feels almost like so many of those moments are simultaneously significant and insignificant, as if this horrific time we’re living and dying through is the movie’s climax, and every story you can dream up from your childhood has become filler, side notes that add a little context to the adult character you eventually play in the film’s main story.
Except now that I’m in the climax of the film, my character is just stuck at home writing emails most of the day, so it’s not exactly a film you’d wanna watch.
Still, it’s my life. And yours. I’m inclined to wonder if “this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with a…” quarantine.
Maybe that’s a flair for the dramatic. This hopefully isn’t the way the world ends, though living through this time won’t be easy, and to get through it, we’ll need to draw on every joyful and scary memory we’ve collected, on every love gained and lost, on the millions of connections we’ve stored up in our mind’s and heart’s eye. I’m taking comfort in that, in particular: that the most insignificant and the most significant moments of my life have prepared me for this one, and I’m better off for all my failures, better off for all my experiences.
And soon, hopefully, this story in time will just be one more vignette to write home about.