Today is Thanksgiving Day, one that has made me wistful. You see, it is also my birthday, and I guess I should be thankful for that, but I don't really know what to feel. I've been out of work for more than a year, and, just yesterday, I learned that one of my high school classmates died of a heart attack a few days ago.
Anyway, today my thoughts have been, to borrow a description from Forrest Gump, floating along on a breeze, kind of accidental–like.
I've been remembering my birthdays during my childhood. I was born on Thanksgiving (I guess that means I've come full circle), and my birthday fell on Thanksgiving a couple of times when I was growing up. And of course there were other times when it was the day before Thanksgiving or the day after Thanksgiving.
Anyway, that always influenced my birthday parties. I don't think I ever had a birthday party on my actual birthday — well, there may have been an exception or two. It's funny now when I reflect on what an ordeal it was just to get some kids together for some ice cream and birthday cake. Mom always had to consult my friends' parents to avoid any conflicts with travel plans.
I guess it was almost a way of life for her when my brother and I were children. My brother was born the day after New Year's, another holiday that involved family travel plans. In fact, today I've been thinking about the day my brother was born. I was 3 years old, and my parents and I were visiting some friends on New Year's Day. My family didn't have a television at the time, and my father was eager to watch the bowl games.
That afternoon, as we were watching the football games, my mother came into the room to tell my father that she had gone into labor. "It's time to go to the hospital," she told him.
I will never forget his reply. It is my earliest memory. "Now? In the middle of the Rose Bowl?"
If there is a comparable story from my birth, no one ever told me. But, even though I was born on the American Thanksgiving, a story about my birth would not include televised football. My parents were missionaries in Africa when I was born, and November 26 was not Thanksgiving where they were. For that matter, I don't know where the nearest TV would have been.
I remember nothing about Africa because my parents and I returned to the United States when I was still very small. My father got a job in Arkansas, and that is where I grew up.
I've been trying to remember when I met my high school classmate who died earlier this week. We went to elementary school together. Perhaps we met in first grade. I know I was in school with his cousin through third grade.
His cousin, who was our age, had leukemia, as I recall. I remember that, when we were in third grade, his attendance was sporadic because of his frequent hospitalizations, and each time he came back he seemed to be doing worse. Once, he had a seizure in the middle of a school day; another time, he was in the bathroom and became so ill an ambulance had to be summoned.
I guess someone — the teacher, perhaps, or the principal — had told the class that Billy was very sick and that it might kill him. I don't remember if anyone ever told us that. But, on the day the ambulance came to pick him up, I vividly remember wondering if we would ever see him again.
Someone had planted that seed in my brain.
Anyway, that summer, he died. My mother took me to the funeral. All the kids in my grade at school were there, and so were the teachers. Our third grade teacher, who always struck me as being very strict, was there, sobbing constantly, muttering about how courageous Billy had been.
There had been other deaths in my world prior to that, but when Billy died, it was the first time I really understood its permanence. Maybe that is because I watched it happen.
And now Johnnie is gone, too. I have a picture in my mind of Johnnie at his cousin's funeral in that long ago Arkansas summer. He was there for everyone else in the family — in hindsight, I can only marvel at the burden he took on when he was only 9 years old. I can remember filing past the open casket and gazing at Billy one last time. He was emaciated. His hair was gone. But he was dressed in a nice suit. That fact has remained with me all these years, for some reason. He was dressed in a suit he probably never wore in life. That seemed odd to me.
Strange, the things a child's mind retains.
That afternoon has defined the death experience for me. And now Johnnie is gone, too.
I don't know if there is a lesson in Johnnie's death for me at this particular time. Maybe there isn't one. Maybe it's just one of those coincidences in life.
I just don't know.
I thought age was supposed to bring wisdom. I guess I'm a little pissed off to realize it doesn't.