By Craig Hastings
How do you remember your life? I’m talking about how do you reconnect with your past if you’re someone that does such things. Me, I don’t take much time to look at old pictures, remnants of old school projects, or even talk to anyone about how it used to be. Pre-1980’s automobiles, disco music, yes disco music, R&B soft romantic music, and smells move my clock and calendar backwards, but I won’t usually seek out any of these just so I can “remember when”. You wonder why I didn’t mention old pictures because isn’t an old picture of back in the day what most people dig from a drawer, turn a page in a scrapbook, or look at in wall hanger frame to remember when?
Sure, I’m not such an odd ball that I don’t have pictures too. My reminiscence of my past usually happens by a chance moment. Good friend Jake will always talk about the cars we owned, raced, wrecked, or broke from our 70’s days of craziness. Good friend Doug will always bring up the days of our clubbing together into the wee hours of the night. There were many people that also played a role in memory stamping our brains from several different towns that Doug and I traveled in Central Illinois seeking out the next most exciting evening. We traveled to Springfield, Charleston, Decatur, Peoria, Danville, Champaign, and even once to Las Vegas in our attempts to prove to ourselves and anyone else that we two guys from corncob county cleaned up well and could speak in complete sentences despite rumors to the contrary! I say this because when asked where we were from and our answer was “Tuscola”, most gave us the “See ya later” cold shoulder.
Doug suggested we bring our High School diplomas with us to prove we graduated from High School, but I suggested we just tell everyone we were from Champaign instead. I witnessed Virgil (Watts) use Champaign every time someone asked him where he lived. And, why not? Everyone knew where Champaign was and for whatever reason a Champaign address prompted a degree of respect. At the time though the Illini football and basketball programs were receiving national attention so I assumed that was why. But Virgil, who was riding shotgun with us many times, commanded his own presence recognition each and every time he walked into a club. Virgil was big, muscular, and a handsome young man with a personality unsurpassed by few. He was a magnet, and if we stood close enough to him we knew we were bound to get hit by some of the incoming. Virgil was a good friend who passed away in an automobile accident early one morning en route to a softball game in Danville. He had left Doug and me on our own to navigate the nightclub crowds.
But I’m writing this tonight, because tonight it is about an old photograph that reached into a part of my brain not stirred for many years. Shannon and I were visiting with my mom tonight at her home just down the road from us. Brother Eric had a box of old pictures sitting in the room, and Shannon just happened to see them. As she sorted through each one inevitably she had a question. These were some pretty old pictures some of which I had forgotten existed.
As she lifted another from the box she shouted out, “Oh my god, Craig this is you but it’s Payton!” “Give me that, let me see what you’ve got, I responded.” What it was, was a picture of me standing next to my granddad who was seated. It was taken on Christmas Eve in 1974. And I have to admit; had I not had on wire rim glasses and had my bangs combed over my forehead I would have passed as Payton’s twin brother. But it wasn’t any of that, that caused memory recall. It was my granddad that ignited my memory.
I haven’t thought about my granddad for many years. But in this picture tonight he was looking at me and asking me where I’ve been. Why haven’t I given him the time for a short “remember when.” Craig do you not remember all the summers you spent in Ingraham on the farm and every Christmas your grandmother and I traveled to Tuscola? Do you not remember fishing in the pond and the creek that you so much enjoyed every summer your brother Greg and you stayed for two weeks? How could you forget playing in the big barn and the corn crib? Do you remember me paying you and Greg a nickel for every peck of strawberries you picked and later selling them to the neighbors for 25 cents? Sundays you dreaded Sunday School with a bunch of kids that were strangers to you? Monday through Saturday you and Greg fetched the mail from the Post Office just about 300 yards from home? The corner store your grandmother sent you boys on errands to pick up this or that? Every evening as long as it didn’t rain you surely remember chasing and catching a few of the thousands of lightning bugs and putting them in a jar in your bedroom? Remember me showing you how to catch and hold the giant crawdads without getting pinched? How many times did we hunt squirrels in the Hickory Tree forest with a .410 shotgun and later that evening I showed you and Greg how to skin a squirrel and dress it down for supper later that night? Do you remember the right way, the safe way, to remove a tick from you arms and legs which you both always managed to have a few? Remember every morning not leaving the house until you drank the “Tang” orange breakfast drink your grandmother insisted primed your energy for the day? Remember how I would pick one the biggest perfectly ripened watermelons from the acre of watermelons each evening and cutting it up outside for the four of us?”
Wow, I sat there stunned until he finished. Yes. Grandad, I remember every detail of our two-week long summer visits. Life didn’t get any better for any young boy anywhere in the world for those two weeks of those 1960’s summer as far as I was concerned. This was the model life in America I learned about in the South Ward School I attended as a 6- and 7-year-old young boy. No air conditioner needed in my grandparents’ house. My grandparents opened all the windows and a cool breeze raced through the house each evening as we laid down to sleep. I remember how fresh and clean the air smelled. How could I be so hot all day, but yet covered up head to toe at night in my bed in Ingraham, but I can’t do this in Tuscola? I would be miserable if I tried that today in June and July in Tuscola.
I’ve managed most of my life to move past the past and forward to the next chapter of my life. I don’t hang on to what isn’t anymore but instead embrace what and who is now. I cried when each of my animals passed and really had a hard time losing my last German Shepherd, but I’ve moved on. I don’t intend to sound cold and heartless, it’s just the way I was built. But tonight maybe something is changing in me. Tonight I really miss my summers with my granddad.