Wordsworth said something about poetry being the expression of emotion recollected in tranquility. That may explain why I am no good at poetry since I am never tranquil. But the notion of recollection does suggest some distance in time between the emotion and its expression. I don’t think I have that recollected distance yet between the placement of my father’s ashes and the events surrounding it and my present moment still in Charleston sufficient to offer a crafted expression of emotion.
Still as I drove away a few days ago from the Atlanta airport and off into the Georgia country side I can say I felt a double sadness—like 2 rivers perhaps as they merged into one. Or perhaps two sides to the same coin. First, at sixty, I felt the passage of the years, the 50 that separate me from my first 10 childhood years growing up in the middle of nowhere in the South Carolina country side. The nature of my errand itself, with my father’s ashes bouncing around in the trunk, was guaranteed to awaken intimations of mortality.
Second was the sense registered in the countryside itself of the passing of years. The place where I grew up, excepting of course the dirt, the trees, and the birds, has gone. Even in the 10 years since my last visit much more of what I knew has gone missing. Mr. Byrd’s country store was at least visible beneath a mound of brush, but now the store and Mr. Byrd’s house as well as the old and gnarly oak, upon which I ruminated one day as a child, are just not there having been replaced by a storage area for large tanker trucks.
Other great houses that once stood by the road have also disappeared. Miss Lizzie and Bell’s house was torn down. The community center, where I had my fierce earache, looks clearly abandoned and falling into disrepair. The nurse, whom I visited on my last trip and who administered by first ever enema, now lies in the cemetery of the ARP church. Miss Cannon, who said I might benefit from piano lessons, is also gone. The sense of time was accentuated too by my meeting however briefly two people who were childhood friends.
One, who collected far more bottles from the roadside than I ever did, now owns an Ace Hardware store and has two sons. Another with whom I rode the bus and who had terrible baby teeth is now a handsome woman with an unblemished smile. When I noticed she had left the “reception” following the service, I ran out to her car as she and her husband were departing to say how good it had been to see her however briefly. I think I was a bit inarticulate and that was the only moment I felt “choked up.”
Part of getting old I suspect must involve in varying degrees of intensity a constant grieving.