I’ve written before about Omaha not being a city of six degrees of separation, but instead being one
of maybe two or three degrees at most. I found out once again how true that was in the steamy confines of a local swimming pool.
A recent Saturday morning found me up at Monroe Middle School working on a story about legendary swimming instructor Rose Baker. She’s been teaching for over half a century and I knew that finding a second-generation parent would be important for that piece, meaning that I was looking for a young parent who was once taught by Baker and was now having his or her kids learn from the same seasoned pro.
It was perhaps no huge surprise to find two such parents at the pool that day. The two degrees of separation here was the fact that both happened to be high school classmates of my eldest son, Eric, the father of my grandkids, Easton (5) and Barrett (3).
The last time I saw Raye Sullivan (nee Bowen), she was probably in a cheerleader get-up across the parking lot at Benson High School. Now she has four kids of her own. Brian Neu was there as well. He was an inner-circle member of the group of kids my son hung out with.
Memory is a funny thing. I tend to remember my kids’ now-adult friends as specimens preserved in a deep freeze. Neu, for example, will forever be a carefree 16-year-old. He will forever be tucked away in my noggin’ as part of the gang of teen guys whose thirst for playful adventures (misadventures?) is now the stuff of family legend.
But Neu isn’t 16 any more. He is now 33. He has a wife and two daughters. He’s trusted to be an electrician, fiddling around with all kinds of dangerous juice. He has a mortgage. He thinks about bills and college for the kids. He’s even probably somewhere along the way learned to pick up his room and put the milk back in the fridge.
That’s the funny thing about memory. It frames how we see and process the world around us, but it is rarely accurate in any true sense and can sometimes be decades out of date, leaving in this case gaping holes in my brain’s Brian and Raye data files.
All of which takes me back to my own grandkids. They are flesh and blood only when we are together in the here and now. The moment we separate they are, like it or not, nothing more than an amalgam of memories, nothing more than electrical impulses ricocheting around in my unreliable noodle.
Which just doesn’t seem fair at all.
I want them to have a corporeal existence outside of and independent of the artificial constructs suggested by my metaphysical meanderings. I don’t want to bank on the often iffy faculty of memory as the only tool which serves to define my grandkids.
I want them to be more. I want them to be real.