Fearful Sweetness

Jesus, it suddenly hit me, they were all down there in that basement, just after the war and the survivors were home, the spring of ’46. Even now I can hear the yakkety-yak, the striking darts, the cackle and gab, smell the beer, deviled eggs and cement dust, perfume, cologne, fresh clothing, cigarettes and cigars, the grownups with their drink-smoke breath leaning down to me now and then to tell me how I’ve grown, even as I look at the photo 60 years later. That was back in the days when the generations drank together, and all the guys and their wives, relatives and friends rented this place, this joint’s basement, where one afternoon they drank beer and shot darts, danced and got drunk and took photos like this for the kids to look at one far-away day as grownups, when the war and all the personal destruction that followed had long been spun out into the rusted gossamer that is history, me here today with only little-kid memories of all these people, who look a lot younger than they did then, the women quite girlish now that I’m well past their captured age; the elder, once-ancient folks in the photo are only as old as me now, and with beers in their hands they’re standing there around the folding chairs, on one of which sits my mother not much older than my daughter is today, and with a look of such now-obvious anxiety on Mom’s face – it’s taken me this much life to see it – she must have sensed even then, surrounded only by Dad’s friends and relatives, how alone she was and was going to be, how without allies in that group of jovial-looking characters, and though she never told me such a thing I must have sensed it in her all along, known it without knowing, as children do, for what I remember most strongly about that afternoon – like the short-lived attempt at familyhood that followed – was the mood that filled it, of fearful sweetness, of an unnamed goldenness going away, a mood like dust motes in a sunbeam on a paper-thin afternoon, and it cuts me with the edge of half a century that despite all the fears and all the joys in the photo, not one person in it is now living, to tell me more about what I feel…

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6 Responses to Fearful Sweetness

  1. kenju says:

    I hope this is the first chapter of a book you will eventually publish.

  2. Winston says:

    Sweet. Recently I was plowing through a couple of boxes of family photos I had never seen before, images held captive in a dark closet by my parents for so many years. As I looked at one and then another, trying to call on my own childhood memories to help identify some of the people, the same thought came to me — all of these people are gone. No one left to ask. Sad. And our children and grandchildren will likely have the same experience.

  3. Mick Brady says:

    A rich and heady brew, my brother. You have set your memories of that day in amber, and given me a spark of what once was but had long since forgotten. This will outlast those fading photographs.

    It is very likely that Mom knew you understood, and that she had the two of us as allies. Rambunctious ones, to be sure, but loyal and loving nonetheless. Thanks for the delicate slice of life.

  4. JMK says:

    This is truly excellent.

    It capturtes the heavy weight of the memories of someone who’s come of an age when so many of the “older people” of his childhood, seem young compared to his own age now.

    A testament to how fleeting time and life are and how temporary all life is.

  5. PoorGrrl says:

    On my mother’s chest of drawers are several family photographs. A few months ago I just happened to look at them and suddenly realized that ALL the adults in the photos are gone, even my Dad.

    Of course, I knew all the grown ups were gone, but the reality of it, and what it means for my family, really hit me hard that day. It was like I REALLY understood it for the first time: they’re ALL gone. My dad, my uncle, my grandparents. GONE. The only ones in the photos still alive are the two babies, both of whom are now grown and one of whom has a baby of her own.

    Life truly is short; death spares no one, no matter how much you love them. Ask the questions you want to ask NOW. Say the apologies you need to say NOW. Love the people you love NOW. Because tomorrow is promised to no one. And now I have to go, or else I’ll cry.

  6. joared says:

    Your words truly capture that ever-repeating experience which we each must go through. So, now I am alone except for my brother and my children. The memories and the photos remain.

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