Time keeps ticking by moment by moment. We can’t make the clock skip a tick or take a break. It ticks for us from birth until that final breath of our lives. At every tick of our life clock we are left with memories that are developed like film. They become pictures, emotions, and trigger happy or sad experiences.
Some of our memories can seem far away. Some of our memories can seem as if we had just lived them seconds earlier. Since the nineteen-seventies the hands of our life clock has marched on for three decades. All we are left with since that time are the people we love, the ideals we believe, and cabinets of memories stored inside our conscious mind.
Closing my eyes and twisting my hair I am drawn right into the memories of my past. I am drawn into the moments I remember of the nineteen-seventies. In elementary school I remember being a flag salute officer for our school. Every morning the entire school would gather around our flagpole and sing patriotic songs. After those songs we would raise our nations flag and pledge allegiance. Sunday mornings before church I would stare endlessly into my bedroom mirror. I still remember that brown tie that seemed as wide as my entire head. I see pictures of golden brown velvet wallpaper, olive colored washers and dryers, square cork panels on walls, and mirrors with strands of gold staring back at me from the ceiling of our den. I feel the two-inch shag carpeting between my bare toes that graced the floors of our home. When the sliding door was open and the wind blew that carpeting looked like grains of wheat waving back and forth. Archie and Edith Bunker summed up the decade in their duet around their family piano with this verse, “Those were the days.”
Memories from the seventies were like riding a roller coaster. When you were at a high point on the track things were warm and happy. As the roller coaster of life shot down to the lows of the track you were left with fright and a queasy feeling in your stomach. Riding my roller coaster through the seventies was treacherous business. The low points on my track made me nervous. Those nervous days created my compulsive and insecure habit of twisting my hair. Some kids use security blankets or suck their thumbs as a way to instill security in their lives. I twisted my hair. That was my security blanket and soothed my mind. Three decades later I am still attempting to tackle my insecurities.
Personal memories from my days of the seventies are flooding into and out of my mind at a rapid pace. I see the cow I hit with a stick on an empty city lot when I was only a kindergartner. I feel the consequence of his revenge from his chain as it knocks me to the ground and all the air rushes out of my body. I remember the day I won first place with my Pine Wood Derby car. That memory painted a bright smile from ear to ear. I am watching a slow motion movie of my best little league moment, my first and only home run. The smile across my face cracks wider as my eyes stay shut and I just absorb the happy memory of 1979. Many more memories flash across my conscious mind. Most memories of the seventies keep a grin on my face while a few shatter my smile nearly to the brink of tears. Like riding a roller coaster sometimes you are smiling and laughing, other times you are scared out of your wits and wondering if you will survive the sudden drops of your car.
As I am traveling my memory wheel of events of the seventies the wheel suddenly catches on one particular moment and I can’t shake the feelings. This memory erases the smiles on my face and sends streaks of hot salty tears streaking down my soft pink cheeks. This memory lands on a life-changing event in the spring of 1972. It cuts straight to my soul and stings today as it did over thirty years ago. It makes my heart ache and causes me to ask life’s most important question. Why? I didn’t get an answer in 1972 and I am not sure there is an answer today or in the future decades of my life to this simple yet complex single word question.
Here is how I recollect this horrible memory. My mom is dressed nice; her hair almost white blonde is styled in a beehive look. I still see her beehive clearly in my mind and it must stand a foot high. We are walking hand in hand up a long sidewalk. Lots of others are walking along the same sidewalk and all are heading in the same direction. Everyone is dressed in his or her best Sunday outfits. Lawns are cut nicely and the rose gardens are perfectly manicured and in full bloom.
Directly in front of us is a large building that looks like one of those plantations from the Deep South. On our left a slow moving black Hurst drives past. I can still hear the faint squeak of the brakes as it stops right beside that plantation looking house. Two men get out of the car; both are dressed in black suits and ties, and swing open the two rear doors. Slowly the two men pull out a casket and four other men appear to help carry the large casket into that big house.
My curiosity of the moment is cured as I realize we are going to a funeral. This was my first funeral. At the young age of eight I had not been a frequent attendee of many funerals. I wondered whose funeral my mom and I were headed toward. Was it a friend of my moms? We continued up the sidewalk and into the big plantation house with all the other funeral guests. Once we were inside I realized my mom and I were standing inside a church and not a plantation. The casket had been carried into the church and dressed with many wreaths of colorful flowers. The casket sat squarely at center stage of this church. Music from the church organ filled the air with waves of somberness and reverence.
My mom held my hand tightly in hers as we filed down the middle isle of the church past row after row of cold wooden benches. Each step toward the front of the church brought us closer to the casket that graced the front of this church with its beauty from all of those flower wreaths. About midway down the isle my mom took a sudden left down a one of the wooden rows while I tried to continue forward. Her hand pulled me into that cold wooden row with her. We sat in silence for what seemed like a lifetime.
A man walked down the isle to our left who I thought I knew. He looked like a portrait that hung on the living room wall in my grandmother’s house. My mom never acknowledged the man walking down the isle on the left. I watched as he stood over the casket at the front of the church for some time. While he stood there I kept trying to place how I knew him or knew of him. The suspense was driving me wild. When I could not take the suspense any longer I tugged on my mom’s polyester sleeve and asked the question that should have stayed unanswered. I said, “Mom who is that man standing up there at the casket?”
As my mom bent down she whispered into my ear these three words, “That’s your dad.” A hot fuzzy feeling overcame my head. The adrenaline started flowing through my veins and I felt very light headed. Immediately my fingers started twisting and pulling at my hair. My mom saw my nervousness and bent down a second time then spoke in a slow hushed tone, “That man in the casket up there is your grandfather Griffin. He died last week.” Spring 1972 threw me down the tracks to the bottom of my roll coaster.
My father turned away from the casket where his own father was lying peacefully and walked back up the middle isle toward the back of the church. My eyes followed him. I wanted to hide and I wanted to be noticed by him at the same time. He walked up some stairs at the back of the church and into a private room with windows for viewing the funeral. My eyes watched him for the longest time. While watching him, I noticed other Griffins from pictures I had been shone. My grandmother Griffin, uncle Jimmy, his Japanese wife Amy, two cousins, aunt Virginia, my dad John, his wife Carol, and my half brothers Christopher and Benjamin were all tucked away in that private room just for family members.
I remember all of the seconds that ticked past after finding out the man standing at the casket was my father and the man in the casket was my grandfather. I know today I was really at two funerals that spring day in 1972. I was at the funeral of my grandfather Griffin and years later I would come to realize I was also at the funeral that would take place between my father and myself. I just would not physically be standing over his casket in the end.
As my mom and I sat there waiting for my grandfather’s funeral to begin I remember my heart racing. I was excited that I might actually get to meet the man who was my father. I was excited at the possibility the Griffin clan might recognize me and asked if I would join them in the private viewing room as a family member. I waited for the longest time to be invited, spoken to, or acknowledged by anyone in the private viewing room for the family. Soon, I couldn’t take the anticipation and I asked my mom, “Can I sit with the Griffins?” She did not respond with the answer I wanted, “They don’t want you to sit with them.”
How could a father not want to acknowledge his own flesh and blood son? The funeral events from that moment on were nothing more than a blur. My thoughts were focused on a battery of questions that kept popping into my head like popcorn in a hot popper. Why does my dad not want to see me? Did I do something horrible? These were some of the questions that I have still never been able to answer. They are some of those elusive why questions of life. On that spring day I came to one funeral with curiosity and left the same funeral with sadness for my dearly departed grandfather. I also left that same funeral with sadness and confusion for the loss of my own father.
My dad never acknowledged that I was even under the same roof as he was. He never winked. He never nodded. He never motioned for me or at me. We were so close yet light years apart. Maybe we were enemies in a past life. The lucky one on this day was my grandfather because his funeral was only one-day while the funeral that took place between my father and I seem to be going on for a lifetime. Tears for the loss of my father still run wild like salmon in the Spokane River. All I wanted on that day in 1972 was to be a Griffin, if only for a day, or just a brief moment.