Sunday, December 7, 2008

No Lapse of Memory

We take a brief intermission here on Pearl Harbor Day to talk about not what falls through the cracks, but what doesn't. I was very happy to go to a breakfast this morning honoring the survivors of that attack. There were seven left here in our region. I went because my friend's father was being honored. I wanted to go, but I didn't really expect my own emotions to be so close to the surface.

What struck me is that these big events of our lives, good and bad, never really go away. Each of the men got up and spoke their piece, some more ably than others. I suppose in some ways it has become a set piece in their recitations of it, but that doesn't mean the emotions were any less real. I was just listening to an interview with the writer Jonathan Carroll about his latest book, and he talks about his conviction that we don't act out of one self but many. We are not always the present moment person as it might seem, but act from all the different people we have been. He spoke about how we return to the different moments in our lives, not in some sort of detached and tranquil memory, but as if we were still there. My friend's father talked about how he was on the ship the Holbert and had been anchored along side the Arizona and other ships in Battleship Row, but were moved to over by the Submarine Base the day before. Just a simple fluke of luck. He's still here and my friend actually exists because of this random twist of fate. He described his witness to this apocalyptic scene, with oil burning on the surface of the sea, and men jumping off of sinking ships, not into water but into fire, and men shooting down their own planes because they were afraid that the Japanese suicide bombers were returning. His words to sum this up were simple. "It was a total mess," he said, shaking his head. 'A total mess' stands in for a lot.

The thing is, that after all these years, after having returned home, worked for the post office, married, raised a daughter, that total mess hasn't ever really gone away. I don't know if it's right to say that this experience trumps all the rest. I hope not. But I was struck by the fact that even in the mind of an elderly man, hard of seeing and almost blind, this memory is still being lived out and interpreted anew.

Also, and maybe somewhat surprisingly, my friend's father still remembers that they were all in the mess that morning and were waiting for their breakfast. They asked, where's our breakfast? And the mess cooks answered, "The Japs are attacking!"

They thought it was a joke. But all these years later, my friend's father remembers, 'We never got our breakfast that day.' Well, I hope that this morning's breakfast made up for that a little. Actually, that was another sweet and unexpected moment. We had come to the end when it was announced that a local company called Gravelle's Boat Company had footed the bill for breakfast. Just a low key thing. Didn't make any big advertisement out of it. But again, no lapse of memory. I will remember that kindness.

So here's to you, Howard Trotno, and to the other men who are still here today, as well as the ones that aren't.

Today at least, we don't forget. We remember.


  1. Lovely, and a heartening example of how recollecting old memories generates new ones.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and post, Peter.