The Persistence Of

Rod McKuen’s father abandoned his mother before he was born, and in the early 1970s McKuen hired a team of private investigators to find him.  The search is documented in the autobiographical Finding My Father: One Man’s Search for Identity, ©1976.

One fascinating aspect of the search was how poor people’s memories are.  Four women who were friends of his mother at the the time of his birth were interviewed, and each gave a different address for where she had lived.  None of these women had incentive to lie– in fact, they were doing their best to be helpful– but obviously at least three of them were wrong.  On cross examination they were all quite certain they were correct, and even picked photos of the buildings out of an architectural lineup.

It makes me wonder how many of my own memories might not be true.

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Time, Time, Time; Look What’s Become of Me…

From Poems From the Sanskrit , translated by John Brough ©1977:

The pleasant city and its mighty king,
The tributary princess at his side,
The learned men that were the kingdom’s pride,
The minstrels with a ready song to sing,
The gracious ladies of the court, the ring
Of haughty nobles, arrogant of birth,
Are conquored by the Lord of all the earth,
Time, who makes memories of everything.

~Bhartŗhari

Gollum’s similar riddle to Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, ©1937:

This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.

A Lesson in Genetics

In this excerpt from Blue Highways © 1982, author William Least Heat Moon recalls a conversation in the Desert Den Bar in Hachita, New Mexico:

(Bartender) Mrs. (Virginia) Been turned to me. “He’s a real cowboy. Horse, lasso, branding iron.”

“Not many of us left except you count the ones that tells you they’s cowboys. A lot them ones now. I been ridin’ since the war.”

“Weren’t you up around Alamogordo when they tested the bomb?” the high-mileage man said. “Think I heard you were.”

“Over west to Elephant Butte, up off the Rio Grande. Just a greenhorn, sleepin’ out where we was movin’ cattle. July of ‘forty-five. They was a high wind that night and rain, and I didn’t get much sleep. Curled up against a big rock out of the wind. I was still in my bedroll at daybreak when come a god-terrible flash. I jumped up figurin’ one of the boys took a flashbulb picture of me sleepin’ on the job. Course nobody had a Kodak. Couple minutes later the ground started rumblin’. We heard plenty of TNT goin’ off to Almagordy before, but we never heard nothin’ like that noise. Sound just kept roarin’. ‘Oh, Jesus,’ I says, ‘what’d they go and do now?’ Next month we saw wheres they bombed Heerosaykee, Japan. We never knowed what an A-tomic bomb was, but we knowed that one flash wasn’t no TNT blockbuster.”

“The next day the sun rose in the wrong direction,” the other man said. “They’ve been testing soldiers stationed at Alamogordo in ‘forty-five for radiation poisoning. You know, Herefords up there turned white.”

“Feelin’ fine. Doctor told me once it was a good thing I was behind that rock. He says the wind saved me, but the wife says the bomb musta been why we never had no kids. Says it burned out my genetics.”

“You never know.”

“Truth is, bad genetics runs in my family. Dad never had no kids.”

“Your Dad didn’t have children?” I said.

“Not a one. That’s why he adopted me.” He drained his beer. “You know what Spaniards called the valley where the bomb got blowed off?”

High mileage looked up. “Don’t think I ever heard.”

“Journey of Death,” the little cowboy said. “That’s the English for it.”

And Then I’d

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky– up– up– up– into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”  ~Lucy Maud Montgomery, in Anne of Green Gables ©1908

Anne of Green Gables is in the public domain and may be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg, HERE.

The Open Destiny of Life

Excerpted from the short story A Conversation with My Father by Grace Paley, © 1972:

“I would like you to write a simple story just once more,” he says, “the kind de Maupassant wrote, or Chekhov, the kind you used to write. Just recognizable people and then write down what happened to them next.”

I say, “Yes, why not? That’s possible.” I want to please him, though I don’t remember writing that way. I would like to try to tell such a story, if he means the kind that begins: “There was a woman…” followed by plot, the absolute line between two points which I’ve always despised. Not for literary reasons, but because it takes all hope away. Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.