We cannot help but collect them as we grow older: memories, steeped in the golden waters of nostalgia.
The Auburn I grew up in during the 1960s and 1970s was a town of 17,000-plus people. It was also much less built up, especially on the north end of town, my end of town. Back then a couple of miles separated Auburn and Kent.
Some of my best memories gather round the friends with whom I shared the green and leafy spaces we had so much more of in those days. That includes the fields that gave so many of us our first jobs — as strawberry pickers, cucumber pickers, what have you.
Whenever I pass the apartments, the businesses and homes and streets and developments that long ago swept away those sites in the name of progress, I remember what was, what we did there, with that sense of nostalgia.
One of the best was a giant blackberry bush on the northwest edge of a weed-wild field, just north of Auburndale Homes on I Street Northeast. Not worth more than a passing glance, and probably a recurring and intractable nuisance to whoever owned the field.
But there was more to that tangle of pointy vines than met the eye.
That is, if you had approached it from the east side and knew where to look, you would have found a small opening, and beyond that a winding path.
You had to get on your hands and knees and crawl round and round the path under the diffused light of the thorny green canopy to reach the center. The instant you got there, you found yourself in sunlight so unexpected that, at least in my experience, it took your breath away. It was a clearing, a bona fide gathering spot all our own, shielded from peering eyes.
We had a lot of fun there. Almost better than a tree house.
Half a mile away, another path, this one off 8th Street Northeast, half a mile or so from the Green River. I remember the pleasure of bucketing along the path on bikes, with broad, wet leaves slapping our faces and the refreshing smell of the river in our noses as we passed. There is an apartment complex there now.
But what I miss perhaps most of all was not anything of the sort just described. You could not hold this thing in your hand.
I can’t pin down the precise moment when things began to go bad, but I suspect there are certain people in the media universe who have a lot to do with it. The sort that encourages their audience not merely to express disagreements with fellow Americans who just happen to think differently, but to regard those folks as the demon spawn of hell who must be erased from the Earth.
I regard them as kin to heroin dealers with no thought or concern for the consequences that may follow in the wake of their sale. All that matters is the almighty dollar.
What weighs me down most of all is the loss of a common sense of truth. Blindingly stupid things are said and accepted as gospel. If push came to shove, I fear we might not even agree that a square has four sides. Trying to argue with such a person is like beating one’s head against a brick wall.
I have always believed that the mark of a master soul is the ability to admit when one is wrong. That’s one way we learn. Today, such people are becoming harder and harder to find.
I would like to return to a time when we didn’t have to walk on eggshells to have simple conversations. When families were not split irreparably along political lines, when get-togethers were not interrupted by screaming sessions or worse, and when fewer people were convinced of the unassailable rectitude of their beliefs, even when the entire world could see they were wrong.
It reminds me of something I read as a child in Aesop’s Fables, and met again recently on the Library of Congress’s website.
A stray lamb stood drinking early one morning on the bank of a woodland stream. That same morning, a hungry wolf came by farther up the stream, hunting for something to eat. He soon got his eyes on the lamb. As a rule, old Mr. Wolf snapped up such tasty morsels without making any bones about it, but this lamb looked so helpless and innocent that the wolf felt he ought to have some kind of an excuse for taking its life.
“How dare you paddle around in my stream and stir up all the mud with your filthy hooves!” the wolf shouted angrily. “You deserve to be punished severely for your rashness!”
“But, your highness,” replied the trembling lamb, “do not be angry! I cannot possibly muddy the water you are drinking up there. Remember, you are upstream and I am downstream.”
“You do muddy it!” retorted the wolf. “And besides, I have heard that you told lies about me last year!”
“How could I have done so?” pleaded the lamb. “I wasn’t born until this year.”
“If it wasn’t you, it was your brother!”
“I have no brothers.”
“Well, then,” snarled the wolf. “It was someone in your family anyway. But no matter who it was, I do not intend to be talked out of my breakfast.”
And without one word more, the wolf pounced on the lamb and gobbled it up.
That is, the tyrant can always find an excuse for his tyranny, and the unjust will not listen to the reasoning of the innocent.
While many of my old haunts with which I began this column are gone, I am hopeful for a return to common civility — and sanity.
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org