There is no one I respected as much as my father, but when he died my old-man was a very old man indeed. He had been an old man for almost as long as I could remember. He was, after all, almost 27 years older than me! He was in constant pain all of my memory, the extent of which we would never have known if our mother hadn't told us. He never mentioned it, never complained. He just went to work every day, loved his family always, and was the greatest single influence on my life.
It was only after he died that I understood about the fire. It was his senior year of high school. There was a very real prospect of his signing with the St Louis Cardinals -- he was a shortstop. World War I had taught medicine a lot about treating third-degree burns. They even did a skin graft. But, according to my mother who had loved him since they were fifteen, he was never the same.
It is probably because I didn't know about the Cardinals or the fire that I had trouble seeing him as a tennis player. He told me one time about a certain day when he was seventeen -- before the War, before the Depression, before the fire. As he recalled it, it was a perfect spring day and he had won the match. "Somehow," he told me, "I have never thought of myself as being any older than I was on that day."
I myself had such a day when I was 18. It could have been yesterday, maybe it was. I was picking up a suit at the cleaners for a date with a beautiful girl. It was one of those purely perfect days -- perfect temperature, perfect humidity, just enough clouds floating overhead. I had a brand-new, straight-off-the-showroom-floor Buick convertible with a mystic blue-green color I never saw again or could describe. [It could do 90 on the highway; but, that is a different story.] Somehow I have never thought of myself as being any older than I was on that day.
As of the day I post this blog, Oct.14, 2008, I have somehow lived through exactly 65 years. There has been now-forgotten pain and unforgettable blessings, incalculable failures, marriage to a woman I would not have lived it without, and five things I seem to have done right. However, like the fiddler on the roof, I don't remember growing older. All I remember for sure is the "sun rise, sun set" part. Whatever happened to that 18-year-old with his perfect day and his perfect car? How and when did he get to be 65-years-old?
The day my father died that old, old man had lived 50 years, 10 months, five days. Somehow that doesn't seem as old today as it did when I was an all-grown-up 22 years, 11 months, three days.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.