In April I was reunited with an old friend from Kansas City whom I hadn’t seen in the flesh for a couple of decades. She recently sent me a half-dozen snapshots that she took some thirty-five years ago, of which this one is the funniest and, I think, the most characteristic.
We were at an outdoor jazz concert that I was reviewing for the Kansas City Star. I can’t remember who was playing in Brush Creek Plaza that sunny summer afternoon, or why I chose to strike the preposterous pose that my friend captured on film, but I still thought it might amuse you to see what I looked like in my long-gone youth.
Because I’ve hung onto no more than a handful of old photos, none of them dating back more than a decade or so, it always takes me by surprise to see the older ones that my friends and family have preserved. The “me” in my mind’s eye is the person whom I see in the bathroom mirror every morning, a pleasant-looking gent on whom middle age crept up so stealthily that he never saw it coming.
Most people tell me that I look younger than my fifty-seven years, which I suppose should be heartening, but when I look at the youngster pictured above, all I can see is the countless changes wrought by time’s cruel hand. Yes, he and I are recognizably the same person, but my hair is unequivocally gray now, while my eyes are rimmed with crow’s feet and shadowed with the unsought knowledge to which Philip Larkin alluded in the great poem that gave me the title of this posting. In it I describe the effect of seeing a class photo from 1962 that was sent to me four years ago by another friend of my youth:
What do I have in common with the boy on the front row? I’m still left-handed, brown-eyed, and clumsy. I still love to read–and I’m still shy, though I’ve learned to behave otherwise. But I moved away from Smalltown well over half a lifetime ago, and I left behind much of what I thought I was. First I wanted to be a fireman, then a concert violinist, then a schoolteacher. Never did I imagine myself living in New York, writing books, or becoming a drama critic. Nor would the boy in the picture have been able to grasp what it would mean to do any of those things.
“It’s a good thing we don’t know what it’s like to be grown up when we’re small,” I told a colleague of mine the other day. “If we did, we’d kill ourselves.” He laughed, as I meant for him to do–but I was kidding on the square. I love my life, my job, my after-hours pursuits, my adored Mrs. T. At the same time, though, I also know, unlike the cheery fellow with the pencil who is pictured above, that even at its smoothest, the road of life is full of potholes, some of them deep enough to bend the axle of the best-built car.
I’m glad that he didn’t know about some of the bigger ones that were waiting for him up around the bend, that he was content that day to enjoy the company of the lively young woman who took the snapshot at which he would marvel half a lifetime later. Sufficient unto the summer is the happiness thereof.
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Melissa Errico sings “Once Upon a Summertime.” The music and orchestral arrangement are by Michel Legrand and the words are by Johnny Mercer: