I met Louie in 1986 at his high school reunion. My daughter Mara was five and fell in love with him immediately. That sparked my interest. She knew something about the old man who had eluded me for over forty years.
While I mostly hung around the edges of the reunion, we did go to the big dinner on Saturday evening. Judy and I watched a man laughing and talking with his buddies, a man I’d never seen engaging with others in a rational and happy way. They were talking about things they had done in high school, mostly football stories. That was my Jamestown High School. I’d been to Blue Jay football games in that very stadium. Why didn’t I know about all that stuff? Why hadn’t I seen him as a person? He was a person with a life. A person with history. A young person with friends.
The man I knew was an adult, and had been for all of my life. Clearly, he hadn’t existed before me. Now, another forty years later, I may have figured out that’s what I must have thought then. Here’s another revelation … I could say the same thing about my mother. She was an adult, always had been. You know what kids say to Mom: “I’m a teenager. There’s no way you could understand what I’m going through.” They’re not young, never were. They’re old, for god’s sake!
For Grace and Louie, at least I’d had some time to catch some small glimpse of their youth. I knew both of their mothers, but the focus of my relationships with my grand mothers was not to learn about my parents. Grandma was sort of interested in my life. My own life had all of my focus. What need did I have for stories about my parents? None. Absolutely none. Let’s not talk about the other adults in my life, Jim and Lucy, who you’ve read about on this blog.
There’s one other adult that has no childhood in my memory. Our step father, Norris. He came into my life in 1966 in a big way, and I totally rejected his presence. Completely. To the point where when he married my mother and moved to Colorado I chose to stay behind. I never heard his stories.
Over the last year I’ve re-read all of my mother and father’s letters. I read them in-depth for the first time. Twenty years ago when I saw the letters for the first time they were almost an afterthought. “Good; they’re on paper. Now one of these days we can talk about them.”
Now I’m reading the letters, trying to connect, realizing that Louie and Grace were people; regular people making choices in life. I made choices, too. My choices ended up taking me down a completely different path than theirs. Grace didn’t finish high school and thought nothing of it. Louie went to college for one football season. Other choices made their lives more difficult than mine. Some of those choices were good, some not so good. Just like mine.
Every day I marvel at my choices. I could have married Cathy. I married Judy. I could have gone to work for Univac. I was at IBM for nearly forty years. Who among my circle of friends and family knows Cathy? Who remembers Univac? Those decisions shaped my life. I kind of like the way things turned out, but what if I had made the other choice?
Sometimes you don’t get an option on what happens. Lucy lost a husband and a daughter. Her only choice was how to respond. Jim’s mother adopted him out and he ended up at war in the Pacific for years. Only he could choose how to live a life with that history.
All of those stories about Jim, Louie, Grace, and Lucy wouldn’t have been here had I not chosen to ask for some letters. I’d never have known them as people without those letters. I’d never have understood them had I not chosen to really read the letters and relate their stories to my life.
I’ve got to read those letters again. It’s worth every minute.