... everlasting voices
This is a story I put here in the Mirror about ten years ago. The
piece is about real people, only my name (Eddie Gilbert) and the
names have been changed to protect the innocent. I really like this
piece as it flows along. Also, I made a discovery as I wrote this. It
suddenly occurred to me that bodies get old, all bent over. But when
we listen to old folks there voices tend to remain. So it seems
to me. Here is my story once again with a little editing..
The other day I noticed Jonathon Blake in the obituaries. Now days it
is fairly usual for us to find some one in there. Jonathon Blake was
just a little kid when I was a teenager. I knew better Alicia, Jean and
Jimmy Blake. I was fourteen in 1944 and Alicia was sixteen, Jean thirteen
and Jimmy was just twelve. Jonathon was the baby, about six or seven, as
I remember. Alicia and Jean were very beautiful. Jimmy and I used to play
touch football in Swan Street Park. When I got out of the Navy in 1953, I
gave Jimmy all my uniforms as he had just joined the Navy.
A gang of us used to hang around on the front steps, on Staples St., where
Alicia and Jean lived. Their mother, Mrs. Blake, was ever present, sitting
on the front steps, ever watchful, we sensed. Or, at least, looking back, that
is the way it felt. All of this was over sixty years ago!!
I thought about it not too long and decided I wanted to visit the funeral parlor. I
was not too interested in Jonathon Blake whom I did not know as an adult. He was the
principal of a couple of schools in Malden where I used to live. I wanted to know what
had become of Alicia, Jean, and Jimmy.
As I drove through the drizzle to the Carr Funeral Home, I was not sure
if I would know anybody. The funeral home is on the lower end of Broadway
in Malden, prominently nestled among the lesser houses on the street. I
parked my car in a designated spot for funeral visitors and made my way
to the front door. There was a sign up at the front door to which I gave
my name as Ed Gilbert. Now I was official. I had to go in.
I turned the corner into the room and the first person I saw looked like
Jim Blake but I wasn’t sure. He was talking with two other guys who gave
me a chance to listen and look him over. And as he talked with the two
guys, the voice I knew wasJim Blake. I was as certain of it as if it was
yesterday. Even if faces have lost their shape, it occurred to me for the
first time those voices are sounds that never change.
When I got my chance I asked him if he was Jim Blake. He said he was with
a question to his look. I said I was Ed Gilbert. He beamed at recognition,
saying all in a breath, how when he became third class in the Navy he used
the “crow” I had given him.
“Yeah, the day I became third class I used the insignia from the uniform
you gave me and sewed it right on my left arm.” It was really gratifying
after all these years for him to tell me that somehow I was special to him.
There were others behind me so he quickly turned me over to Alicia saying,
“Hey Alicia, guess what, this is Ed Gilbert!”
“Ed Gilbert, my goodness, how are you Ed Gilbert!”
And, then too, Alicia’s voice was unmistakable. It was a voice coming out
of a small woman whose face was crumbled by age as she sat shrunken before
me. Her thick glasses and her shoulders were sloped, tired looking, yet the
voice was bright and cheery. She reached to take my hand but did not stand
and I had the impression that standing would be difficult. I will be 74 in
November so that would make her 76 or 77. But she did chat brightly asking
what I was doing with myself. For a moment I couldn’t think of a thing to
say. I guess I was trying to match what I saw before me with her sprightly
talk. I found myself mumbling that I was retired and not doing very much
These are occasions when only the briefest greetings are allowed, especially
with the long line behind. I did have a quick chance to ask Alicia after Jean
only to be told that she had Alzheimer’s. I was startled by this news as I
remembered a pretty vibrant young girl who was going somewhere fast. I could
visualize her when she was young but could not imagine what she had become. Maybe
that is just as well.
I made my way down the walk as the drizzle still fell. I was lost in thought
about this meeting after sixty years. Only the voices remained. I would not
know, could not know what had happened over the years. As I drove, I thought
of a small piece of my memory from so many years ago.
(This was about Alicia, tall and slim at sixteen with a long blond pony tail.
She had a freckled face and a smile that went on forever. Bobby socks were the
fashion then and her very full sweaters caused the boys to stare.) Up from my
reverie, I had heard Alicia’s unmistakable voice.
I’m filled with a deep sadness about the years that have somehow escaped us and
sent us into disrepair. Yet, I’m enlivened by voices that seem to last forever.
May 6, 2016