I have no idea what drug the memory up, and I wonder if there is some internal mechanism we are not aware of, that triggers memories. Are they all there? Is the entire sum of life held like a filmstrip, waiting for some chemical reaction to play some snippet depending on what has happened and what we’ve seen, smelled, tasted, heard, or experienced? Or is memory more or less packaged and tied up in pieces, and we remember parts of the past, and our brains fill in the blanks with whatever fits, like missing words in a sentence filled in by first graders?
There’s a poem out there somewhere, and thanks to the magic of the Internet, I present it to you here:
The Calf Path
by S.W. Foss
One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way.
And then a wise bell-wether sheep,
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep;
And drew the flock behind him too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o'er hill and glade.
Through those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about;
And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because 'twas such a crooked path.
But still they followed - do not laugh -
The first migrations of that calf.
And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.
This forest path became a lane,
that bent, and turned, and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load,
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half,
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare;
And soon the central street was this,
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half,
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
Each day a hundred thousand rout,
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o'er his crooked journey went,
The traffic of a continent.
A Hundred thousand men were led,
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent,
To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind,
Along the calf-paths of the mind;
And work away from sun to sun,
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred grove,
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! many things this tale might teach -
But I am not ordained to preach.
I helped make a road like this long ago. There was a patch of woods between River Street and Meadowbrook Drive and we kids would cut through those woods and eventually there was a path. We started taking out bikes down the path, and one day someone with a Jeep cut through and suddenly Wyatt Jarrett Street was born where there was no road before. I was no older than four or five the first time I walked through there and I drove down a paved road a few years ago where that path had been.
Blakely was once a one grocery store town and it stayed that way until the mid seventies or so, then that vacant lot where there was nothing, bordered at the west end by the Suwannee Swifty, the first store to open on Sundays in Blakely, and it fails me now. I have no idea what else was out there but the big house that stood on the eastern boundary of the lot. I remember how I thought they would not tear the house down because it was beautiful, and how could a house like that be useless? But one day it was gone, and the trees that had guarded it for a hundred years were gone, too. The vacant lot people had cut through in their cars to get from South Main to South Church Street was turned into a parking lot and Blakely’s first strip mall was born. There was the new IGA, and it was flanked on either side by a series of stores and shops that would all eventually fail, as would the IGA after a couple of decades or so. The turned the cow pasture just across the street from the IGA into a parking lot and put up a brand new grocery store complex a few years ago, and that ended me telling people my home town had cows inside the city limits.
I remember the old house being there but I cannot remember any details of it. Where are the details of this structure? Why is my brain empty of the house’s personality yet cognizant of its existence? The five acres of asphalt now sit nearly empty, totally useless, and the house was destroyed for a grocery store that held life for a fraction of the time the house stood.
I remember the IGA as a place with bright white lights and there was smiling Mr. Hanson, an elderly man who always greeted everyone coming into the store as if hadn’t seen them in years. Mr. Hanson was such a nice fellow, and everyone loved him. It was hard to be mad at the new store for killing off the old one when Mr. Hanson was so happy to see you. Why come on in here how are you how is your grandmother today what can I help you find is your daddy doing okay how’s that recent aliment of your mother’s my it is good to see you again! Years later I dated his step daughter who he had been raping since she was eight years old until she was old enough to fight back. Her mother knew about the abuse and did nothing, said nothing, just ignored the fact that her husband was abusing her daughter because she was a very poor woman and the Hanson family had money.
There isn’t a cut through street near the tiny creek that runs west from Lancelot and South Main but I see it coming one day. The woods between these two roads are being nibbled away each year as people move around, not move in or move out, but shift around like they pave over one spot of build a grocery store, and then pave over another when the last venture fails. There should be some law where if your business goes out of business you have to take it with you, and put back the trees and plants and stuff that you destroyed. We know that won’t happen, as long as some realtor can con someone else into setting up their dream of owning their own business where another failed, and another before it, and another before it, too.
Hanson is long dead, his step daughter a mother and a wife now, and the IGA stands as empty as a tomb, full of spider webs, dust, broken dreams and half memories that may or may not be accurate. I remember the funeral for Hanson, and how there was a mini scandal because his step daughter refused to come home for it, and how her mother was distraught. I almost pulled the trigger on it, almost said something to the people who were clucking and shaking their heads, but didn’t. Why ruin their memory?
All of this rose up from the dead depths of my past not because of grocery stores or child abuse but because I realized I didn’t have any pictures of Pete, a dog my mother owned when I was a kid. Pete was a mutt that looked a lot like wolf, and acted a lot like one too, and I miss him every day of my life. I was thinking about Pete when the path appeared, grown over and beautiful and then it struck me there is a road there now and… the rest formed in my head. That poem is so appropriate at this point, no?