Walks are good for thinking. They’re settling. You get time to spend pondering whatever’s on your mind.
There’s something I can’t quite bring to focus. And it’s not what I’d expect.
… I’m ready for cold …
I’m ready for a cold December morning when a few flakes of snow float in the neutral nothing of a dismal day, or whatever they do when it’s December and not yet the hard bitter cold of January’s winter.
The sky was gray, almost white. Dismal and perfect at the same time. The air was cool and chilly, and the birds were noisy, busy doing whatever birds do in the afternoon. Fluttering around in the bushes now, not high in the trees like they were in the summer.
Every bit of my surroundings shouted (very quietly) ‘late November’.
When I was little, we went to 12 o’clock mass on Sundays. That’s what it was called, 12 o’clock mass. Back then Catholics didn’t sing the same songs as Protestants. I don’t think singing Protestant songs qualified as a sacrilege, but some songs were Catholic songs and some were not. My recollection, anyhow. Like the Catholic Lord’s Prayer was different from the Protestant Lord’s Prayer. Although we called it the Our Father. In the confessional box, the last words from the priest were always, “For your penance, say five Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.”
It so happened that while we were getting ready for 12 o’clock mass on Sundays, there was a cartoon show on TV called Davy and Goliath. Davy was a little boy with a dog, Goliath, and the show had a religious theme of some sort. I liked the show but I never got to see the end because we left for church about fifteen minutes before it was over. The intro music for that show was A Mighty Fortress, and since then I’ve always loved that song. I think as a kid I found the words impressive. Mighty and cruel hate and Sabaoth. Abideth and doth. And the melody was sort of compelling. But I knew it wasn’t a song we ever sang in church.
One Sunday in November, Davy and Goliath was pre-empted, or maybe it was interrupted. It was that weekend when almost all the shows were pre-empted. Back then, breaking news was truly breaking news. As it turned out, that week, the previous Friday, my parents had to go to the funeral home because one of my uncles had died. I suppose I was young enough I didn’t have to go with them. When it came time for my parents to return home, some aunts and uncles were with them. I guess to pick up their kids, my cousins, who stayed at our house too that Friday. With the oldest in charge. When they walked in the house, in their Sunday best funeral home clothes, all the kids, including me, and the cousins, were jumping up and down on the beds. I don’t know how it started. I guess it just looked like fun. The grown ups were so angry. I’m not sure this is important, but it is the context for me that following Sunday.
My memory is that we were getting ready to leave for church on Sunday and the TV was still on. I think we all looked at the screen because they were going to show the guy who killed President Kennedy. We were standing in the living room watching and could see a lot of people in camera view, and they brought a man out in handcuffs. I remember thinking something like, “Is that him?” It seemed seconds later, one of the men on the bottom of the screen moved toward the prisoner, poked a gun into the suspect’s waist, and shot him. Right there, on TV while we watched.
Kennedy was just killed a few days earlier. Now, there we are in our living room, the guy who shot Kennedy was already caught, and some other man walks up to him in the middle of the press and the police, and shoots him dead. It seemed nobody even moved to stop the shooter. It was surreal. I’m sure I didn’t know that word back then. But it was the feeling we’d all had that whole creepy weekend. Surely, someone would come on TV and tell us some story other than Kennedy was dead. I think we expected them to say they got it wrong. It was a practice or a drill maybe, or somebody else was killed and they just thought it was Kennedy. Or they thought Kennedy died, but he was really still alive. Well, that didn’t happen. Now it was two days later, and they were saying this guy we just saw on TV got through the crowd and shot the suspect. The suspect who shot the president. Huh??
I was thinking, “Can we all go back to Davy and Goliath and A Mighty Fortress?”
But no, we turned off the TV that Sunday, piled in the car, and went off to 12 o’clock mass.
I’m no good at transitions. A few days after Christmas, people are ready to move on. They throw out the wrapping paper, they recycle the boxes, they take down the tree. January 23rd, and I’m still trying to squeeze in every moment, every song, every note I missed.
That cricket. That damn cricket. The last cricket.
He had to be in the house. Sometimes I walked in the kitchen, and he’d stop, and then seconds later he’d start back up. That cheep was always good for a tug, or a smile, somewhere back in the emotional part of me. It was the sound of something vaguely reassuring. I don’t know, a warm muggy night? You go outside and it seems the whole neighborhood is asleep. Maybe a lazy pause in the dark, on the cement step at the end of the walk. He sounded like the moment you were alone with the trees and the stars and the balmy air and the sounds of the last bits of summer.
It’s one of those microseconds when you look up with hopeless hope that somehow there’s still some summer left, and that’s all it lasts. A microsecond.