Goodbye to Gramma Watchie

What happens as we try to come to terms with our past is that we see our lives as a process of continual disenchantment.  We long for the security provided by the comforting illusions of our youth.  We remember the breathless infatuation of first love; we regret the complications imposed by our … [Read more...]

The Nature of Nostalgia

  “The Atlantic Ocean was really somethin’ in those days.  Yes, you should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.”            ―Burt Lancaster as Lou, an aging ex-underworld figure sitting at a beachfront bar in Atlantic City.          After forty years, I rendezvous in a restaurant with a … [Read more...]

The Best Year

Until the age of eight, I had always lived in the city, in old hotels and second-floor flats.  During the war we had moved around with my father until he was shipped overseas for the invasion of France.  When my mother died in the summer of ’44, my father was allowed to return, just missing the … [Read more...]

Lofty Days: Ode to a Childhood Friend

When I met him in 1946, Tommy Alden was a chubby third-grader with merry eyes, curly black hair, and a jovial intensity.  He lived in a white house with green shutters on a poplar-shaded street in old Palo Alto.  We grew up together a few blocks apart, waiting at the same bus stops for the same … [Read more...]

Our Game

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steam rollers.  It has been erased like a blackboard and rebuilt, and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game; it’s a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all … [Read more...]

A State of Mind

  The surrender of Japan and the assassination of President Kennedy, bracket an era variously known as Pax Americana, Good Times, the Best Years, Happy Days—the American High.  It was a time of solid families, effective schools, and reliable careers, a time when government and institutions … [Read more...]

Radio Days

While my father trudged through the French winter, fearing he would not survive the war, it was my mother who died of lupus in sunny Pasadena where we had settled for her health.  My grandmother, who had been taking care of her, was afraid to tell a five-year-old the truth.  So she took me back to … [Read more...]

Detritus

As the last of four generations of only-children, I inherited all my grandmother’s belongings when she died in 1965, along with those she had kept of my mother’s, who died when I was five, and another vanload of things left by my great-grandmother.  It all arrived one Tuesday morning, piled in the … [Read more...]

Strange Attractor

  Every day is Spring, while we’re young. None can refuse, time flies so fast! Too dear to lose, an’ too sweet to last! ―"While We’re Young,” featured in     Barry’s Hollywood Bowl … [Read more...]

An American Motif: The Steam Locomotive in the Collective Imagination

  Like the giant reptiles, the great steam locomotives no longer roam the earth.  Those massive hulks of sooty iron, cluttered with snarls of piping and valves, were the consummation of crude mechanical power.  Though technology, like evolution, has since turned from quantitative to more … [Read more...]