Inspection- When Memory Refuses to Fade

This week… so much to comment on! Everything is so political. I even had a column ready discussing if gas prices are being fixed for political reasons. Maybe I’ll publish that edition some other time. Yet, why bother? Look, either you believe me… or you don’t. Either you’ve thought these thoughts; accept my examples, or will dismiss them as feltergarb… no matter what I type.

“Feltergarb?”

Thus, I introduce my topic. The reason? I figured there would be plenty on your plate politically, your social or theological issue oriented table… Dig in! Dig in! But how about a little dessert to distract the mind? Like… “Feltergarb.”

“Feltergarb” is a term from the first Battlestar Galactica. Yes, I watched it, and though I enjoyed… I have always felt the earlier Glen Larson production was vastly inferior to Trek, and maybe only marginally better than the original Dr. Who. Most of the minor characters had seeped out of my mind long ago. In fact, when they replayed the old series before the new one kicked in I was baffled by how much I had forgotten… except “feltergarb.” I eventually started using the expression on a regular basis, only because it insisted on sticking in my head as if super glued.

Why?

Oh, if only that were a singular example. I could dismiss it as just one tiny smidgen of undigested; ghost-like, vocabulary. But the ghosts of one’s past are never happy to leave it at that. They haunt us: point fingers at what we really didn’t care if we saw, or heard or smelled, again. It goes far beyond both “one tiny smidgen” and “vocabulary…”

Although my family was from the Adirondacks; going back well over a century, because my father was offered a Park Avenue job during the Depression, my early years were spent in Nyack, NY: near New York City. I went to a rather large and old elementary called Liberty Street. I admit, I have few fond memories: being in The Mikado as the Mikado, and falling in love in third grade with Claire Adams, are pretty much it. I had a few friends like Jeff Mittleman and Dell Setzer. The rest were of a rather harsh environment where you could get in big trouble just for going up to the third floor when the second floor water fountain was occupied, urinals so big they could swallow a third grader and teachers that came and left quickly… mostly because they were really, really bad. And some who were so good that even in that foreboding edifice their talents shined: Mr. Bob comes to mind… amongst the few, or Mrs. Atterbury, who in one brief moment taught a whole class Base 4. Our teacher had spent a month reading rather haughty, college course oriented, essays on the “theory of Bases” to… fifth graders?

“it’s simple, really. ‘1, 2. 3…’ then there is no ‘4,’ then it goes to; ’10, 11, 12…'”

So much better than reading theory of bases…. and when we obviously didn’t get it to begin with: making us stay after school; attempting to threaten us into “saying” we understood it, or spending an hour or more insulting the intelligence of a group of fifth graders.

That was a pivotal moment in my life; where good teaching triumphed over poor. I even studied to be a teacher and taught for a while; thanks in part to this moment. So I understand why I remember. But others moments? I have no idea…

The school was torn down a long time ago. I had no reason or desire to remember such specifics, yet I could walk you though that school. I know what the desks looked and felt like: a mix of somewhat new and mostly precarved… damage done over many years. I can still see the antiquated, even for the time, PA system in the principal’s office. I was in there only twice, and I was simply bringing a message from a teacher on both occasions. Nothing special happened before, during or after. And I promise you: bad moments burn easily into that CD I wish I didn’t have in my head. If only my good moment CD worked as well. Does anyone sell software that will assist me with this problem?

Walk down to the end of the hall on the first floor; just before the gym and Mrs. Failing’s Kindergarten… (Nice lady, but having a teacher named “Failing” for your first public school, or any school, teacher?) …there was the lunchroom: long, green tables that folded down from the wall. Second floor, opposite the first floor principal’s office and somewhat above the teacher’s lounge which cigarette smoke always poured out of, was the classroom where I fell in love with Claire… saving me from an otherwise miserable year. Down at the other end: the auditorium filled with old wooden seats. Large, huge… I wonder if I would feel that way about it now. Until I saw the photographic ghost of the school, I thought my memory of how big it was, how prison like the entrance on Liberty Street we rarely passed through seemed… I thought my memories were skewed by time.

Recently I was finally able to present to my wife pictures of Liberty Street (Go to page three, click, then click again to see enlarged.) …via my first childhood friend: Dell Setzer, and Denise Holloway; fellow Classmates.com member. The exterior is exactly as I remember: foreboding, huge, yellow-ish brick… I could go on, and on: giving a “grand” tour; walking you through damn near every inch; even down to the often slightly dirty, bulb-ish, just a tad yellowed, lights dangling down from the very tall ceilings but…

I know. Many of my readers who know, or care, nothing of this are probably wondering… and you’re point is?

A while ago I wrote an Inspection about dreams. (If you wish, click and scroll to entry about “dreams,” please.) I marveled at how my mind can remember all that detail every time I dream the same dream, but pick it up where I left it off without a single error.

Now is the time to ask the next question…

Why do we remember the seemingly insignificant things we do remember? I could care less about the vinyl like green color on the top of those lunch tables: tables I almost never sat at. I cried when I couldn’t bicycle home for lunch. I begged to ride through sleet, snow, rain and more often than not… I did. The light fixtures meant nothing to me. The smoke billowing out of the teacher’s lounge surrounds my memories for no apparent reason. The whole place is but a ghost that has decided to curl around inside my cortex and settle in for the rest of my life.

Why?

I have no idea.

But I admit it’s quite the adventure; now that I know it isn’t ever going to go away. For the rest of my life I will walk those halls that no longer exist. I have been able to write and sell songs based on such, add them to my columnist’s arsenal of references and topics, let them slowly seep into books I hope to publish some day…while enjoying what no one will ever see again… other than mostly black and white pictures. I do hope others walk there with me; though I cannot see them, or really know about their adventures.

I am eager to hear from those who have enjoyed such journeys: especially if they vary from mine.

Ah, all the memories we each have. If science ever finds a way to capture them for all to see and experience, would we come to understand each other in ways we have never been able to? Would there be less war, less hate, less fear, fewer misunderstandings? We can only hope. Inventors would need to find some way to capture the emotion and the meaning we find in them too. Otherwise the past will always but a mere dusty, old, book; written in a language only the writer will ever understand… lost to all when that last neuron shoots across our minds; the last beat of a battered heart whispers its way into nothingness.

That… would be more than unfortunate.

We never spoke
We never touched
We didn’t need to…
Our eyes said so much
The old Schoolhouse
Where I looked in your eyes
I keep that memory
Deep inside
And I visit you deep in my heart…

School teachers
Friends and preachers
Love comes in all shapes
All kinds
Some loves give romance
Teach, or give a chance
Each mem’rie ages like wine…

from Ken Carman’s song Deep in My Heart
©copyright 1994
Loose Moose Music/bmi
all rights reserved

-30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over thirty years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.