Footprints In Time: Generation Reflections – by Martin Kimeldorf

As my parents exited middle age, they began receiving flyers and seeing ads about retirement living communities. It was as if they had entered a momentary pause in their lifeline. My father, Don, began talking with my mother about the items they should keep and things to get rid of. Then one day my mom, Fay, showed up with a brown paper bag of books by Dr. Spock on child raising. 

After her first vodka gimlet, she told me she was giving me the bag of books she had been saving for me. Then after her second vodka cocktail, she confessed she just couldn’t part with them. 

There was a pause. It was awfully long. We averted our eyes and scanned the room.

Then she quipped, “This was silly. I should be going.” Without comment, she rose and headed for the door. My wife and I were struck mute and motionless. Then my mom got up and wordlessly left. It was so unlike Fay.

I had been having this dream for several days as winter drew to a close in 2023. It turned out this early morning would be the last night I dreamt this story…It has now reached its conclusion…and so I write. 

Growing up, our weekends shaped us with routine chores. My youngest brother went grocery shopping with our mom. He pushed the second cart. My middle brother did yard work with my dad. I moved out the bicycles and other loose items from the garage before I swept it clean. Though seemingly mundane, these activities culminated in forming work habits that have lasted a lifetime. 

At the end of chores, we celebrated with our special Saturday lunches. Each person built a sub-sandwich from sourdough French bread, coated with creamy mayonnaise, filled with mortadella-salami-bologna cold cuts, and topped with various pungent cheeses. These weekly gastronomic celebrations were topped by our special Sunday gourmet dinners crafted by my mother or father.

I also recall how my mom (and sometimes my dad) originally asked us about having kids in my 30s. But by my 40s that conversation wound down. We had no kids, just dogs, gardens, and favorite flavor-packed recipes. Then in my 50s, the kid-having conversation finally disappeared.

I became the heir to their library. 

My father read only nonfiction about camping, gardening, fishing, and the poetry of T.S. Eliot. Fay would end up sharing her favorite titles with me. In the end, I inherited the faded covers with cracking spines from mostly Fay’s hard-bound book library. Her favorite author was Thomas Wolfe. 

The Wikipedia (our universal reference) reports that Thomas Clayton Wolfe lived from 1900 to 1938. Fay loved what the Wikipedia called his “highly original, poetic, rhapsodic, and impressionistic autobiographical prose.” Wolfe’s words resonated across her entire life.

In my 30s, she lent me Look Homeward, Angel, Of Time and the River, and, as I finished my 40s, I concluded with You Can’t Go Home Again… Maxwell Perkins was Wolfe’s first editor, who also published the popular works of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1938, after submitting over a million words to publishers, Wolfe came down with pneumonia in Seattle. That city lies two hours north of Tumwater, Washington. 

Wolfe died before he reached 38.  After his death, his publisher Perkins brought out Look Homeward Angel. This was my mom’s favorite work. Reviewers would eventually compare Wolfe to two of our greatest American authors, Hemingway and Steinbeck. The New York Times tried to sum up Wolfe’s life. They described him as “…stamped with genius…but undisciplined and unpredictable.”

His generation, like my parents’ “Greatest Generation” had been burdened with the promise of greatness…They somehow passed on that expectation to my “Baby Booming Generation.” 

But, does any generation ever live up to its “advertisement?”

Perhaps Wolfe’s best-known book was You Can’t Go Home Again. Judy and I are now in our 70s and 80s. And, though I am well past the age when Wolfe died, his influence has subtly lingered across my lifespan. That influence became more visible after I recently watched the 2016 biography of Wolfe in 2023. And as so many times before, shows on the television help define or shape my generation’s perception of ourselves.

 My parents never made the move into a retirement community. Judy and I have remained in our Tumwater home for 45+ years. While we raised no children, we have constantly included dogs in our “pack,” and loved them ALWAYS. As I write this recollection, both my parents have been gone for over 15 years and our current fur-kid is known in the neighborhood as Eddie. He’s a 17-pound white schnauzer, who retains his too-cute, sparkling puppy eyes.

We are well passed the midlife question where people wonder about “our legacy.”  We have loved our dogs dearly. In fact, our dogs, along with closest friends, are remembered in our wills. 

Now as we again look forward, perhaps even homeward, we feel satisfied with a lifetime of political activism, acquisition of loyal friends, and collecting recipes in a small index box once belonging to my mom. Judy and I feel our time on this planet has made a small fractional difference. And that also has given us a sense of wealth in ways not normally measured. 

I can see how our footprints have dented the sands of time.

Martin Kimeldorf

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