By Bybee: Remembrances of things past
It’s appropriate that the invitation to the 50-year high school class reunion came a year early, for the class of 1959 was always “appropriate,” the last “sit up straight” class.
They were “follow the suggested outline” students who were learning to take the road most traveled. Solid folk and fine people, but so unremarkable they have no generation name of their own, only a label identifying them as “between” more illustrious generations. They were the “In-Between Generation” that filled the unused space after the Greatest Generation and before the Baby Boomers. Too late for Korea and too early for Vietnam, they had no war to call their own. Too late for Swing and too early for real rock & roll, they had no music to call their own.
They were expected to stay inside the lines — to become dentists inside the lines, accountants inside the lines, and teamsters inside the lines. 1959 had no authors of imagination, it had no poets.
Forty-nine years later the class of ’59 followed the appropriate agenda and sent the appropriate invitation a year in advance; more than sufficient time for invitees to “follow the suggested outline” and provide:
A. A 1959 photo
B. A current photo
C. A 300-word synopsis of one’s life: Spouse, children, grandchildren, awards won, special interests, career highlights.
Forty-nine years later John Mibbles is attempting to “follow the outline — to the letter.”
There’s list of “Classmates We Can’t Find” in the reunion invitation, 26 people — he doesn’t recall a name. He has, in fact, disremembered so much that he can’t recall the size of the school. Was it 400 students? 900? 1,500? He remembers only that he was a daydreaming “look out the window” student, and try as he might he could not remember his dreams — not a single one.
He doubts his 1959 classmates would remember him. He’d made no mark in school and he’d left town immediately after graduation. His life played out — and after high school he never looked out the window again.
But, for some odd reason, he found the “synopsis of one’s life” request strangely appealing. He tried to write it to paper . . . and . . . nothing.
He’d won no awards, his interests were mundane, he’d worked “jobs to pay bills” — no “career” to it.
He’d discuss his writer’s block tonight, at the end of day, when he walked with Rebecca. It’s what they did: at day’s end, they walked and said, “How was your day?”
In the meantime, there was a doctor appointment and an MRI to suffer this day. He waited an hour, alone, two times, in small windowless rooms, and two times he spent away the hour trying to write his life to paper and . . . nothing.
John Mibbles’ high school time was not his only time lost; all his memories flickered on and off nowadays. Some came back, some did not, and some returned much different from when they left.
His mottled memory was the reason for today’s doctor appointment and MRI; perhaps it wasn’t the first of Alzheimer’s — perhaps it was a benign tumor that could be removed or a clogged artery that might be unplugged.
He thought the conversation with the doctor was inconclusive; maybe — he couldn’t remember.
And then inside the hum of the MRI, the “Memory Recovery Instrument,” he remembered it all; a full and good life, almost too wondrous to be believed. And inside the chamber, John Mibbles spoke his life aloud, in chronological order.
I have tasted my mother’s homemade chocolate chip cookies — hot from the oven.
After my first communion, as I walked away from the altar, I felt sunlight in my chest and I knew God, intimately — for awhile.
In a weed-filled field pretending to be a ball diamond I “felt” the sweet sound of a wooden bat connect with a tape-covered fastball.
In the long afternoon: I watched my children grow from toddler to adult and be better than I ever thought to be. And then I heard my grandchildren laugh.
At twilight: An old friend stopped by and we sat in the shade of the magnolia tree, and drank iced tea, and talked of things that were and things that ought to be.
And tonight, when day is done, I will walk with Rebecca and we will say “How was your day?”
After the MRI he knew to write it down immediately, lest he forget it — and he did both: he wrote it and forgot it.
Rebecca found it six months later, in the envelope with the reunion invitation, in a pile of recyclables forgotten to be recycled. She knew they’d not be attending the reunion at year’s end; knew they’d not be attending anything at year’s end.
She spent times the next week in private places, reading his words again and crying again and smiling again. And then, she wrote just “Poet” in the space provided to sum up his life and mailed the invitation back to the class of ’59. — Doug Bybee
Bybee is a retired state-government employee in Springfield, Ill., and columnist. When he isn’t writing essays, he is working on the great American novel. He can be reached at email@example.com.