Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Memory Safe #3 Sour Grapes of Wrath

Harry & David, the fancy Oregon fruit producer has filed for bankruptcy. I hadn't thought about that place in a lot of years and I couldn't help feeling a little shadenfruede when I heard the news this morning. Let me explain.

In 1975 I dropped out of college and headed West on my Woody Guthrie/Hank Williams/Bob Dylan vision quest thing. This involved sleeping in a lot of Interstate ditches, smoking other people's cigarettes, and looking for the worst possible jobs available. Picking fruit, of course, qualified. It was Cesar Chavez, John Steinbeck and David Allen Coe all in one basket. I stood in line for over an hour at the Harry & David orchards in Medford, OR to sign on. My fellow applicants were a mix of hippies like me, Latinos, bums, roughnecks and teenagers. I was healthy, strong and willing to work and was already forming my questions about work hours, housing, and how many weeks of employment Harry & David might be willing to commit to me.

When I finally stepped up to the table the conversation was short.
Foreman Guy: Any experience?
Me: Doing what, picking fruit?
Foreman Guy: Yes, picking fruit. That's what we do here.
Me: I assumed this was an entry level position.
Foreman Guy: You assumed wrong. Move along. Next!

I walked away in a daze. I'd just been denied a job as a migrant laborer. Granted, the country was in the middle of a huge recession with sky high inflation and unemployment, but still -- I couldn't get a job picking fruit.

I found a no-experience-necessary job planting trees for Weyerhaeuser in the Cascades a few days later. A good life followed and here I sit thinking about that long ago rejection. Had Harry & David given me that job I might have excelled at it. Moved up. Been the foreman guy. Maybe moved into management eventually. Secured an equity position in the company. And today I'd be bankrupt.
Sour grapes taste kind of sweet sometimes.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Memory Safe #2


I did not forget the motorcycle. This much I know for sure. Jane got back in touch in ‘95 and told me her best memory of the two of us was the weekend we took my motorcycle from East Lansing to Warren Dunes on Lake Michigan. I remembered the weekend. But we’d hitchhiked.. She insisted there was a motorcycle. She remembered what it looked like. I’ve never owned or really even learned how to operate one. The closest I came was when I dumped my roommate’s Triumph on the yard of our dorm. Maybe Jane had seen that – I don’t remember the timing of it all -- and put the rest of it together from dreams. Jane’s father pulled me aside a few weeks later, after I’d thumbed over to Gross Point to see her. He told me to never under any circumstances hitchhike with his daughter again. I didn’t do that or anything else with Jane again as it turned out. I wonder how he would have felt about a motorcycle?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Memory Fail Safe

Memories fail. This is a fact of life. Having watched my father's memories erode almost completely over a fifteen year period, it is one of the most frightening rewards of getting older, which we all do. Day by day. Month by month. Year by shockingly short year.

A friend of about my age once said to me that it felt like his head was full: every time he learned something new, something else had to go. A new PIN? There goes his childhood zipcode. The names of a colleague's children? The middle name of your own brother. I don't know if memory works that way, but his theory supports what I've been seeing too.

But I refuse to go gently into that good night and in order to preserve these fading scraps of my happy life I have started a Memory Safe. Every time I have one of those senior moments where something I knew just the day or hour before is no longer at my command, I write it down and a little bit about it. Sometimes it takes me a whole day to recall the lost scrap. Sometimes -- since much of the faded glory is culturally rooted -- I look it up on the Internet. By doing this, and by writing a few lines about the thing, I hope to keep it safe. To keep it in the safe. So far it appears to be working pretty well and I would recommend this to any of you who also find yourselves caught in the spaces between the the things you know.

I'll be posting some of these safe deposits in this space and invite you to post some of your own in the comments. I'll get us started with this one.

Silent Snow, Secret Snow

Conrad Aiken. That’s the guy who wrote that. I read this story in high school and never got it out of my head. It's about a kid who wakes up either listening to, or imagining he is listening to, a snowstorm piling up outside his window. I think of it every time I see a gentle snow falling. Every time I hear a muffled step in fresh snow. Every time I wake up and the world seems too quiet. Or too impossible to navigate. It’s interesting why some things stick with you. Is it exceptional writing? Or is the memory primed by something in your life at the time you read it that makes it indelible? Either way it’s worth looking at the parts and pieces of a story or song or picture that haunts you.

© Current Tom Bodett
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