Something we know as a child is that life will be lived in a forward direction. Children typically have great dreams for the future which include many fun times ahead. What we don’t know is that we will experience a lot of “last time” moments.
As children, we head out the door nearly every day in the summer to spend time with neighborhood friends. No one knows when it will be the last time. It just happens.
There was a last time we stayed overnight with friends or at a cousin’s home. Perhaps there would be tears in our eyes as we walked away from their house for the last time – had we known it was the last time.
When I was a child, there was a box of hats and gloves we could search through for something to put on before heading outside to play in the snow. Some of us know what bread sacks were used for long ago. It’s a “Wonder” they really worked. The St. Joe River was near my childhood home, and neighborhood kids would meet to spend time sledding on the hills.
It’s easy to live in the present moment when your only mission is to have fun. No one was thinking we would have stories to tell when we reached adulthood. No one knew we were learning how to dodge away from a glove full of snow, compacted into the shape of a ball, and hurled through the air at us.
It’s the older children who throw the snowballs with great speed. The guys can be rough on each other. A lot of us end up with memories of faces being rubbed in the snow. These were the moments when we did indeed need adult supervision. All we tend to remember is we had great fun.
We play hard before deciding we’re cold and worn out, and it’s time to head home. Then our moms help us figure out where the wet clothes need to hang to dry off. Our mittens find a spot on the floor register. The tissue box comes out. We know it will take a while to warm up. This is when we ask if there is any hot chocolate in the house and if there is a bag of marshmallows to be found.
When I see a group of children playing on a snowy hill, I know it’s time well-spent, and they will end up with a few exaggerated survival stories and great memories.
The last time I saw my friend Vicki in person, she was in my driveway getting in the car with her husband and children. I knew it would probably be years before I would see her again. As their car was backing out, and she gave that last wave and smile, I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see her.
Thankfully social media allowed the two of us to find each other again and see pictures of how life was treating us before she passed away at the age of 54. Vicki probably never knew how attractive she was; she had the widest, prettiest smile imaginable, as well as a very kind heart.
My dad lived to be 88 years of age. In his later years, he sat in his reclining chair with time on his hands. Apparently men think about things they may have done wrong just as much as women do.
Dad would sometimes mention that his children wouldn’t be inheriting a large sum of money. In fact, because his children would need to take care of his youngest son, he knew we would have nothing but antiques to inherit.
Dad was forgetting those antiques were in his house all the days of our lives, so there would be great value in whatever we would receive from the home we grew up in.
We should have reminded Dad of all the things he did right in his life. In our eyes, he didn’t do many things wrong. The black-and-white photos of all the toys he made for his children should have been shown to him on a near daily basis. He needed to be reminded of his giving spirit and of all the care he took of others in his life. All the teaching he did. All the time he spent digging in his garden.
One of my favorite family photos is a picture of me with four of my siblings, two cousins, and our “go-cart” that Dad put together for us. Steering was made possible with a rope he put on the front. Our four- wheeler was powered by the legs of whoever got behind it and pushed. It ran well in the forward direction.
That old photo has caused a lot of laughter between us, and we wonder what happened to our 1960s all-terrain vehicle. Of all the things that were saved for us, why not the four-wheeler? My guess is that we played too hard on it, and it simply didn’t survive for the next generation.
My brother Ed and his friends were known to venture off on their bicycles to Fish Creek north of town. Thankfully someone snapped a picture of them before they took off one day. Since today’s cameras allow us to expand the image on a photo, we were able to identify the guys on their bikes and take a better look at the fishing poles and tackle boxes in their hands.
Ed said they rarely caught anything. Their time together ended up being more about spending time with friends than the bringing home of fish. When the gang pedaled their way back into town after their last fishing trip, they didn’t know it would be the last time they would be together as fishing buddies.
To my knowledge, none of the bicycles are still here for us to check out once again. But if the bikes could talk, we would hear their story of being handed down to the younger kids. They would tell of their excellent adventures that started each year in the spring and ended only when there was snow on the sidewalks. Some of the bicycles were used to deliver newspapers as the boys made their way from one home to the next.
I’m finding many photos that are clear evidence that Dad liked to spend time in his yard. Mom was quite comfortable calling the newspaper and asking them to take a photo of Dad and his garden. The story of his tomatoes and potatoes made the news. My siblings and I are grateful for all those newspaper clippings that tell us the story once again.
As Dad became older, his garden became smaller. The day came when the garden was grassed over, and he could no longer head out the back door and do the things he had been so capable of doing for so many years.
Just like the hands on a clock, life ticks away only in the forward direction. If time could move in a counterclockwise direction, some of us would be making plans. But the reality is, it’s the rear-view mirror we tend to look into as we live life in the forward direction.
There was my dad – letting us know his thoughts. Telling us he could have accumulated more riches on earth for his children to inherit. He wasn’t thinking of himself. He was thinking of others and how he could make life easier for the next generations.
The rest of us can look at his life and know that he lived it to the fullest. After all, it was the 1960s, and we were a family with a four-wheeler. Dad engineered it to run in the forward gear. He could have put a motor on our go-cart, but he left it as a cart that would go forward only with effort. Maybe it was a lesson in contentment. Maybe he taught us to work with laughter because it is laughter that contributes to the wellbeing of those around us.
Maybe Dad’s four-wheeler taught us how to shift into a state of joy. Even if our joy is temporary. Even if we didn’t know it was our last ride on that four-wheeler. Even if we didn’t know our two very young legs would be providing the fun for the last time.
When I think about Dad and what seemed to hold true for him, I wish I would have told him that he was forgetting what true riches are. But the last time I had a meaningful conversation with my dad, I didn’t know it would be the last time we would talk.
Those with lots of life experience may think of things they would do differently. Perhaps they would have been more intentional about meeting up with friends to see how life has been treating them. Maybe they would pick up the phone more often. Or become a more generous giver. Maybe they would forgive a little quicker. Love a little stronger.
If there is such a thing as shifting into a gear that keeps everyone happy, we’d all be working on staying in that gear. But sometimes we look into the rear-view mirror too often. We don’t realize the reflection can become a little distorted when we are remembering all the difficulties. We don’t tend to give ourselves credit for holding on tight and making it through the bumps and proverbial mud.
And that fork in the road – did we really head down the wrong path? When we’re older we tend to forget we had made a lot of wise decisions that got us where we are today.
If we were to write about our life, we would start at the beginning and write in a forward direction. There may be a pen in our hand, but it is our heart that places the bookmarkers on important and not so important moments we’ve lived through.
It is only after we’ve gained some ground that we can look at life in reverse. If the rear-view mirror is a bit on the foggy side, it’s okay to bring out a cloth and clean it up a bit. We can then see clearly that life provided a lot of good times that made the holding on tight worthwhile.
When we’re making out our plans for the day, perhaps we should ask if our hands and feet could offer up some help for others. Whether our legs are still strong and youthful or a bit on the wobbly side – we can bring joy to other people. Or maybe we need to be the passenger and ask for a friend to get behind us and help us get through our day. Perhaps we need someone who will help us see through the rear-view mirror in a more focused manner.
It’s always more fun when friends are there – helping us to hang on tight. And isn’t it wonderful to be reminded that the only things we need to accumulate are the memories of times we spent together?
My dad should have remembered all the things he taught to the children in his life. He was from a generation that was capable of providing inexpensive toys that would leave us with memories of incredibly fun times. And blessed are those who have memories of time spent with the gang not catching fish.
At the end of our lives, we just need to remember that we will indeed leave a positive impact on the generations to come, simply from the joy and laughter we were a part of, in that little place we’ve always called home.
© Marlene Oxender 2022