The other day I noticed Jonathon Blake in the obituaries. Now days it is fairly usual for us to find some one there. Jon Blake was just a little kid when I was a teenager. I knew better Alicia, Jean and Jimmy. A gang of us used to hang around on the front steps, on Staples St., where Alicia and Jean lived. Their mother was ever present, sitting on the front steps, ever watchful, we sensed. Her two girls were available on her terms. Or, at least, looking back, that is the way it felt. All of this was over sixty years ago!!
I thought about it not too long and decided I wanted to visit the funeral parlor. I was not too interested in Jonathon Blake whom I did not know as an adult. He was the principal of a couple of schools in Malden where I used to live. I wanted to know what had become of Alicia, Jean, and Jimmy.
As I drove through the drizzle to the Carr Funeral Home, I was not sure if I would know anybody. The funeral home is on the lower end of Broadway in Malden, prominently nestled among the lesser houses on the street. I parked my car in a designated spot for funeral visitors and made my way to the front door. There was a sign up at the front door to which I gave my name as Ed Gilbert. Now I was official. I had to go in.
“What am I doing here?” I said to myself.
“I won’t know anybody,” I thought.
I turned the corner into the room and the first person I saw looked like Jim Blake but I wasn’t sure. He was talking with two other guys who gave me a chance to listen and look him over. And as he talked with the two guys, the voice I knew was Jim Blake. I was as certain of it as if it was yesterday. Even if faces have lost their shape, it occurred to me for the first time that voices are everlasting.
When I got my chance I asked him if he was Jim Blake. He said he was with a question to his look. I said I was Ed Gilbert. He beamed at recognition, saying all in a breath, how when he became third class in the Navy he used the crow I had given him.
“Yeah, the day I became third class I used the insignia from the uniform you gave me and sowed it right on my left arm.”
I remembered that as I left the Navy and I knew he was joining the Navy I gave him most of my uniforms. It was really gratifying after all these years for him to tell me that somehow I was special to him.
There were others behind me so he quickly turned me over to Alicia saying, “Hey Alicia, guess what, this is Ed Gilbert!”
“Ed Gilbert, my goodness, how are you Ed Gilbert!”
And, then too, Alicia’s voice was unmistakable. It was a voice coming out of a small woman whose face was crumbled by age as she sat shrunken before me. Her thick glasses and her shoulders were sloped, tired looking, yet the voice was bright and cheery. She reached to take my hand but did not stand and I had the impression that standing would be difficult. I will be 74 in November so that would make her 76 or 77. But she did chat brightly asking what I was doing with myself. For a moment I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I guess I was trying to match what I saw before me with her sprightly talk. I found myself mumbling that I was a retired and not doing very much these days.
These are occasions when only the briefest greetings are allowed, especially the long line behind. I did have a quick chance to ask after Jean only to be told that she had Alzheimer’s. I was startled by this news as I remembered a pretty vibrant young girl who was going some where fast. I could visualize her when she was young but could not imagine what she had become. Maybe that is just as well.
I made my way down the walk as the drizzle still fell. I was lost in thought about this meeting after sixty years. … Only the voices remained. I would not know, could not know what had happened over the years. As I drove, I thought of a small piece of my memory that I remembered from so many years ago. This was about looking through a window and I can still feel me blushing through the top of my head at what I saw. As I peaked under the blind, Alicia was standing in front of a mirror with her pajama top open. She was admiring her full breasts, fluffing one up and than the other. With a faint smile, Alicia buttoned her pajama top.
I was astonished at what I saw. I knew, almost immediately, that I could not tell anybody. It is only now that I can tell of the shame I felt, at fourteen, for having invaded a young woman’s privacy. To know that I had seen those delicious breasts in the flesh and couldn’t tell anyone was apt torture for my voyeurism.
I’m filled with a deep sadness about the years that have somehow escaped us and sent us into disrepair. I do have a lovely memory of the lush body in my youth. I’m glad of what I saw and don’t want to forget. But, also, I’m enlivened by the bright voices that are everlasting.