This Takes Me Back

photo-37I am home now, but a few hours ago, I was walking through the David Hockney Exhibit at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco.  Eric and I were in the city this week working a job together and I had a little extra time, so I went to the exhibit.  I used to live in San Francisco and as I drove along Fell and into Golden Gate Park, I remembered how I would often go for a run from my apartment near Alamo Square to the Pacific Ocean, along Fell, through the park, and then I’d turn around and run home.  I marvelled that there was ever a time when I had that much energy.

As I was walking through the exhibit, I noticed a gentleman about my Dad’s age lean in to say something to his wife.  They were looking at a rather large piece, entitled “Midsummer: East Yorkshire” which was composed of several panels of paintings.  I’d noticed him earlier, he was wearing a thin scarf around his neck and he just didn’t look like the scarf-wearing type.   He then pushed a finger up to his scarf and with a gravelly voice, whispered, “This takes me back to our trips to England.”  Then the two of them stared at the paintings in silence for a few moments, presumably lost in the memories of the vacations that they’d taken together through the years.  I don’t know the story of the scarf, if it’s something he’s dealt with for years or if it’s a new development, if it’s temporary or permanent.  He reminded me of my father, who last year for a couple of months had a tracheostomy tube and we wondered for a while if it might be permanent.  

When I saw the couple, for a moment, I thought I would write about them, then decided, no, there isn’t that much of a story.  Then in the next room, there was a very elderly couple, also taking in the same exhibit.  They were in their 90’s and the husband was bent over and the wife, who was only in slightly better shape than him, was helping him adjust his audio ear pieces that one sometimes rents at museums.  And while I was staring, yet again, I noticed my scarved friend was watching them, too.  I don’t know exactly what he was thinking, but it appeared to me, the look on his face said, “Don’t let this happen to me.”  Or maybe his look was just, “I wonder if this will be me.”  It’s hard to read looks, even when you’re a documented voyeur, I mean, people watcher.

And then, in the very next room, there was an installation called “Woldgate Woods” which depicted a road and the trees surrounding, on four different walls, at four different times of a year, April, June, early November and late November.  In the late November piece, there was snow glistening on the road and in the trees.  Certainly, it was intentionally evocative of the seasons of life and it reminded me of Thomas Cole’s “Voyage of Life” series, which depicts the four stages of human life.  And not only was I witnessing it at the DeYoung as I walked through those rooms.  I was a part of it.  I was a 45-year-old man, remembering those enduring, athletic runs of my youth, looking at these men at 70 and 90, wondering if this was going to be me, wondering if I could accept if it were to be my plight.

Last night, after our hosts took us to dinner in the Marina, Eric and I decided to walk from the restaurant to the home where we were staying in Pacific Heights.  After a few days of bitter cold, it was a balmy 50 degrees.  Many houses were decorated for Christmas, the Golden Gate Bridge was always within our eyeline.  As we walked around the Palace of Fine Arts, we took pictures and talked to the five swans that came to greet us at the water’s edge.  We talked about Ricky and Millie, because being around these gorgeous, flirty, talkative creatures made us miss our own gorgeous, flirty, talkative creatures back home.  And then we walked up Baker Street at what felt like a 75 degree angle, huffing, puffing, and laughing the whole way.  I guessed we laughed too much to call it romantic, but when we finally made it home, it felt like we’d made a special memory.  

And today, as I was driving down the 5 back to Los Angeles, already missing Eric, who is coming home tomorrow, it made me hope that one day, 20-40 years from now, we might be in a museum together and we might see a painting of Golden Gate Bridge, or Coit Tower, or the Presidio, or the Palace of Fine Arts and one of us (no matter what kind of shape we are in) will lean in and whisper to the other, “This takes me back to our trips to San Francisco.”

The Least I Could Do

monkey-islandA few days ago on Facebook, a friend of mine from home posted this article about the preservation and safety improvements made on some of the slides at Riverside Park in my hometown of Independence, Kansas.  The article made me happy, because I remember those slides, I loved those slides and I’m glad those slides will be there for years to come to bring joy to the next generations.  Reading the article, it hit me, probably for the first time, just how much of my youth I spent at that park and zoo.

I have seen a lot of parks in my day, some of them pretty spectacular, like Central Park and Golden Gate Park, and Griffith Park, and Hyde Park, and Gosford Park(just kidding), but the thing is, I don’t think I could love a park more than I love Riverside Park. Of all of the parks mentioned, I don’t think any of them formed me, the way Riverside Park formed me. It’s where I took swim lessons every summer and now, my daily swim is one of the most important parts of my day. It’s where I’d climb on a retired airplane and dream of flying off to see the world. It’s where I’d get nervous in the outfield at t-ball practices because I knew that if anyone hit the ball to me, I’d never be able to catch it. It’s where I’d run to clear my mind while listening to Amy Grant or Michael W. Smith on my Sony Walkman. I could go on, but in a way, memories are boring unless they are yours. And if you are from Independence and you are reading this, I’m sure you have your own memories.

After reading the above article, I decided I wanted to send a little money to FORPAZ, which stands for Friends of Riverside Park and Zoo. In fact, I became a member. Anyway, if you are reading this, and especially if you are from Independence and you have your own special Riverside Park memories, I encourage you to take a few minutes to write a check (any amount would be welcome, I’m sure) to support a worthy cause. Make checks payable to FORPAZ, INC., PO Box 9, Independence, KS 67301. I know how lucky I was to grow up playing in a park like that and I’d like to do what I can to insure the same for others.