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Nothing In Particular

It’s Funny The Things You Think Of

05.17.08 | 1 Comment

The writing group I’m a member of read a piece the other day, a deeply personal struggle for acceptance in the form of an internal monologue. One of the problems with the story was the lack of an inciting incident – the main character simply sits down, more than six decades after the fact, and hashes out how she feels about a pivotal moment in her life.

While driving home that night, I remembered a story by Saul Bellow called “The Silver Dish”, which I read many years ago. In it, a middle-aged man is awakened by the bells of a church near his home, as he is every day. This day, however, the sound reminds him of his long dead father, and he sits on the edge of his bed in his nightclothes and weeps.

Tonight I watched a very fine British film from 1969 entitiled “Goodbye Mr. Chips”. It tells the story of Mr. Chipping, an elderly teacher at a boarding school in England, how he became rather stern and unpopular with his students, and how his life was changed when a fellow teacher dragged him off, over his strenuous protests, on a walking tour of Austria. There he met a much younger woman who took a shy middle aged man and drew out the inner warmth and strength of character.

The rest of the film follows their life, her death, the changing times in England, and the loss of many of the school’s alumni in the First World War. It was a very moving film; we all wish to be remembered as fondly as Mr. Chips.

My children didn’t seem to find it as engrossing as I did, so I carried them off and tucked them into bed. I’ve been slightly ill the past couple of days and was making ready to go to bed myself, but I was thirsty and headed to the kitchen instead. I’d finished the iced tea earlier and hadn’t brewed any fresh, so I poured myself a cup of milk instead, and stirred in some Hershey’s syrup.

I suppose I was in a sentimental mood, but the ringing of the spoon against the sides of the glass instantly transported me back twenty years to my parents’ house in Shreveport. Back then I slept a great deal and tended to stay up late, and I’d make myself a glass of chocolate milk every night, never earlier than ten thirty. My mother’s was the only bedroom on the ground floor, and if she wasn’t soundly sleeping the noise would wake her, and I’d get an earful the next morning.

It’s hard to believe that my mother has been dead nearly fifteen years. Even typing those words seems strange. It seems that most of my life has been lived since she died. In just a bit more than the past ten years I’ve married and had three children (my wife helped). I’ve done far more in the past twelve years than my first twenty-seven.

I don’t think of her much, partly on purpose, I suppose. I used to be a moper, someone who would always look back and wonder what would have happened if things had been different, but I’ve learned to look forward and see the good things that can come. Lately, though, I’m wondering if there were things I could have done differently, done better, and I guess that’s why tonight a glass of milk nearly brought me to tears.

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