Posted by: wrmcnutt | November 15, 2010

Waste No Time

One time, at Pennsic . . .  I returned to my camp, and was cheerily greeted by my wife.  It had been an odd afternoon, and I was in an odd mood.  When she asked me what was on my mind, I told her the truth.

“I saw Jehanne in the marketplace today.”

“Um, sweetie, Jehanne’s been dead for more than five years.”

“Yes.  You can imagine my surprise.  I saw Mom, too.”

She fetched drinks, sat down in the common tent with me, and waited, expectantly.

I had been walking up through the Merchant Area, “downtown Pennsic,” and turned left, to walk up by the Barn.  There, near Claus’ toy store and Megan the Limner, stood my Mother.  The first though to hit my brain was, “What’s Mom doing at Pennsic?  It’s not her kind of thing.”  Mom’s idea of roughing it was a Holiday Inn without a swimming pool, and “survival camping” was no pool AND no TV.  So the picture of my Mom at the Great War was as alien as finding peanut butter in your foie gras.

It was, of course, just another lady who had a superficial resemblance to Mom.

It was Jehanne who messed with me though.  It physically hurt. Again, I was walking through downtown Pennsic, coming up the walkway between the main gate and the Cooper’s Store.  I passed the Street of Gold, the big refrigerated truck with all the ice, and just as I neared the ATM, my friend, Mistress Jehanne Du Mai walked around the corner.

Her hair, her glasses, her carefully assembled medieval clothing . . . it was all there.

My heart leapt.  Without thought, but a great deal of delight, I discarded five years of known history.  Our barony’s memorial award named for her, her funeral, her illness . . . I dismissed it all as some kind of misunderstanding.  I was going to be able to talk to her again.  To sing with her.  To have the conversations we hadn’t had.  To talk of archery and pirate ships. Of medieval navigation and the Great Age of Sail.  We could go sailing on my new (modern) boat.  We could make plans to build a medieval sailboat. We might even build it.

I saw her clear as I can see my keyboard right now. For an instant.

And then it was painfully clear that this was not my friend.  My stomach knotted up, my eyes teared, and my hands shook, briefly.  It was another lady who, like my Mom earlier, merely bore a superficial resemblance to my old friend.  It’s hard to believe that I am still mourning for her after, what, five years is it?  I mean, to look at us, you wouldn’t think we were that tight.  We spoke at SCA events, four or five times a year, and on line maybe once a month.  Truly, we were not tight. And I didn’t know her well. Perhaps if I’d known her well, I might have known how sick she was. The thing is, I thought there’d be time.

And that’s the crux of it, isn’t it?  I thought there’d be time.  My very first encounter with this concept came with the passing of William Blackfox.  Master William was a caricature artist in the SCA who did animal caricatures.  He had a talent for catching the essence of a client in one sitting, and producing an anthropogenic portrait try evocative of the client.  Blackfox’s work is getting harder and harder to find these days.  His family wasn’t interested in his work, and so his estate has done nothing to preserve or publish it that I am aware of.  But you can still find examples here and there. I wanted a portrait.  But there was always a line at his booth. Or it was time for dinner.  Or I had to get to a class.  And then he was gone.  With no warning.  He wasn’t particularly old, or known to be sick.  I don’t know the details, and they’re really none of my business, except that one year he was there, the next he was gone, and I never did get around to that portrait.

And then there’s my Dad.  I have few regrets, there.  I was with Dad during his twilight years, and we did everything together that we could.  But I have regrets for him, by proxy.  Ever since I was a boy, Dad talked about his cabin in the woods.  He owned an acre of what had been family land up above Knoxville in a small community called Walland.  There’d been a cabin up there when he was a boy, and he’d spent many summers up there with his cousins.  It was the small-town American ideal.  Climbing the ridge, exploring the woods, splashing in the creek, and swimming in the swimming hole.  But when he was a young adult, the owner, a great aunt, chose to tear it down.  It was old, battered, and structurally unsound.  The plan was to build a new, modern cabin on the site. But she passed away shortly after the debris was hauled off, and the new cabin was never built.  All of this, of course, was before I was born.  Subsequently, Dad spent all my life talking about the cabin he was going to build.  And the boat.  From the time I was about nine until I was about twenty, Dad wanted a boat.  Nothing big or fancy.  Just an inboard/outboard with a deep-vee hull.  Something you could ski behind, fish off of, and maybe take a short way off shore.

Neither happened.  Dad quit talking about the boat after the divorce.  I suspect it was his idea of something the family could do together.  Since the family was no longer together, there wasn’t any point.  The cabin, though, went from a summer retreat to the place he was going to retire to, and still never got built.  He stopped talking about it some time during the last three years of his life.

I didn’t spend as much time with Dad as I feel I should have.  But I was there at the end of his life.  We talked a bit, and he had some regrets.  But one thing he never said, was “I should have spent more time at the office.”

So if I drink too much, eat too much rich food, or pat too many ladies, it’s because carpe diem has become my watchword.  When I’m stuck in that little room at the end of the line, struggling to get to the bathroom without having to call for help, I won’t be wondering “what would have happened if . . . ”

Have those important conversations.  Go to see the pyramids.  Climb mount McKinley.  Kiss the girl.

In short – waste no time. There’s less of it than you think.

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  1. I do understand where your feelings lie here. This summer before my 35 High School Reunion, I was reunited with a dear friend from those days. We agreed to call on a Friday night and we did. He asked me about my life and my family and I did the same to him. He was at some friends home that night and so after about 20 minutes we got off. But later there was so many other questions I wanted to ask, and things to say. I had hope he would finally agree to come to the reunion. But he didn’t. A or two later, as I understand, he suffered a brain aneurysm, was comatose for 3 month and died at the end of September. No more questions or conversations. Just that awful silence.
    I still mourn my mothers passing, almost 20 years ago, and many, many friends and relatives. There are still conversations I want to have, and I hope the are listening when I have them in my mind and heart. More importantly I hope I am listening carefully when they answer.

  2. Thanks – I don’t know what else to say.

  3. It’s been four years since my mom’s death. And there are still times I think, ‘I need to call Mom and tell her…’

    Those who have gone on will always live in our hearts.

    • Yeah – and I do take comfort in that. But you can’t share a beer with your heart.

  4. It’s all true. The grief lessens, but the love stays. And I would hate to reach the end of my life with a long string of “I wish I had …” tacked onto the end of it.

    • Me, too. That’s why I’m trying to shorten it. But without writing too many checks I can’t cash.

  5. comming up on the anaversery of my dads passing Ive been prone to sad thoughs. I am so gald you posted this and love the part of ” If i drink to much …”etc its given me other things to consider when I think on the phone call I must make to mom in a few weeks. Better things that arnt so sad.

    • What call is that, in particular . . . Oh, wait. I think I know. Never mind.

  6. William Blackfox was the first person that I met in the SCA. Later he became the piper for my Clan (household). I have a couple of drawings he did of me, one with my wife. He saw me as a teddy bear. The drawings were gifts. I remember him fondly and miss him.

    • That is quite cool. All I have is a copy of Vixen’s Keep. I understand that there was at least one Warthaven collection somewhere, but I’ve never seen it. My friend Roz has caricature of herself as a serpent, coiled around an apple tree, labeled “The Temptress is In.”

      I really wish I’d made the time to have that done.

  7. I was re-reading this today. It’s been almost 11 1/2 years since I lost my Mom and I still have times when I want/need to talk to her.

    And recent events with my Dad is a constant reminder that my time with him is growing very short. I remember the strong middle-aged man who was there when my son was born. 22 years later, I’m faced with his mortality and all the things I’ve not done and left unsaid.

    And it’s made me understand one day my son will be in my place. It’s a scary thing. We all have this innate belief that “things will just go on”. I mean other than damages to joints, I _feel_ the same as when I was 23, despite the calendar proclaiming my age as 53…. So many when I get “around to it’s”….

    • I can’t think of anything more important than deciding to GET around to it. Like you, I FEEL 25, when, in fact, I’m looking down the barrel of 50. There is so much I’d like to do and see. So I’m trying to face the fact that my ship has come in, and it’s time to live my life. Because it’s getting short.

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