Some of you may be aware of the first quote in my sidebar, under J.M. Barrie’s intellectual-looking picture. It says: “You must have been warned against letting golden hours slip by. Yes, but some of them are golden only because we let them slip.” I don’t know where it’s from, but I found it and loved it. I saw a series of pictures today, of sweet, dimpled, yet serious looking babies. The photographer had captured a golden hour. It was the hour of childhood. I drank in the pictures, because each of them seemed to cry out: “Youth!” And something else. Something sweet, but somber. A little bitterness mixed in the cup, but I think perhaps it was only my mind, a thought awakened by those pictures. “Where is my youth? Where are the days when it was a mountain climb to the kitchen counter? When I stretched out my arms to be carried? Where are my golden hours, where have they gone?”
This is the golden hour. This is childhood captured in a moment, in a single picture, in a breath. These tiny ones, they grow up behind our backs. Our childhood disappears almost as soon as it’s there. I remember, though, when the days seemed slow. When bedtime was before the sun deserted the sky. I remember when I used to swing, and it seemed so high. I remember climbing the tree in Grandpa’s back yard. How many times I tried to climb it and fell down again, never being able to quite reach the branch. Now it’s about to my waist.
Don’t let the golden moments slip by….
Last night something happened which seemed to me something out of a book. Like one of those images you never forget. I was thinking about the brilliance of the meal. Daddy had grilled home-made hamburgers. I had made a cheerful looking salad with all sorts of vegetables in it… We had cut up avocado and onions for the burgers, and mom even bought sushi as an odd sort of side dish. I remembered we were supposed to have tomatoes, so I ran into the kitchen to cut them up. I think as I write that I must have been humming, but I wasn’t humming a song. Rather, I think a song was playing itself subconsciously in my mind, because I was so happy about the colorful meal. I love chopping vegetables. I picked out the knife for the tomatoes, and washed them. They were so plump and red. I sliced neatly and thinly. Luther strolled into the kitchen.
“Ruby, how do you spell, RESERVED?”
Me (absent-minded): “R.”
I turned my head slightly. He plopped down on the kitchen floor, laying the sheet of paper on the ground, and spelled out an R.
“Okay, what next?”
“E,” I said. I laid the slices of one tomato on the white plate, and began slicing another one. I could have written it for him in a second, in the time it took him to write one E.
“Alright, now what?”
“S.” Second tomato slices went on the plate. I opened the cupboard to find the salt.
“E.” The salt got sprinkled thinly on the ripe tomatoes. I opened the cupboard again and grabbed the pepper grinder.
“R.” Pepper rained on the tomatoes, a little more thickly than the salt. We always like lots of pepper.
“S. No, sorry, V.” I don’t know why I got mixed up, but I did. It seemed like “reserved” should be a longer one than it was. I could have written it for him, but there was something better about this. Something beautiful about taking the time to tell a little boy how to spell something. I knew why he was spelling “RESERVED” too.
“E.” The tomatoes were done. I picked up the plate and waited.
“Okay, now what?”
“Is that it?”
“Yes, that’s it.”
A moment, and he held up his work. The letters were large, scraggly capitals, but I knew he was proud of it, and I was too. We went outside, and I saw him run up to a chair and place the sign on it. He sat in the next chair. He had reserved the seat for Duncan, his best friend and buddy. He didn’t want anybody to take Duncan’s seat, because he had to sit next to him. He had to let people know that this place was not an option… this place was for his best friend. The childish loyalty and pride had quite an affect on me. There was something so innocent in the whole thing.
Luther is almost eight years old. Ever since he was five, we’ve given each other “good morning hugs.” I forget how it all started. Once when he went away for seven days, he came home and gave me seven hugs and kisses “to make up for the ones he missed.” He went through a stage where he refused to hug me because it was embarrassing. Now he does it willingly, but the other day he told me: “Ruby, when I’m eight I can’t give you good morning hugs anymore, because I will be too old.” His serious blue eyes looked at me; he was wondering how I would take it, and I didn’t take it well, seeing as his eighth birthday is in two weeks. “Luther! you will not be too old! Duncan isn’t too old to give me hugs!” I remonstrated and reasoned with him, and demanded a hug right there, which was given grudgingly. I held him close to me and gave him a loving lecture. Perhaps he doesn’t remember it, but I felt like I had to tell him.
“Luther, promise me you won’t ever be afraid to feel anything.”
“Well, Ruby, it’s just hard when the sushi goes down; it feels so weird, and I can’t kiss you after you’ve eaten sushi.”
“No, I don’t mean that kind of feeling. Do you know what the other kind of feeling is?”
“No.” The deep eye-wells looked at me quizzically, as if he was questioning my normality.
“I mean don’t be afraid to feel love, or sadness, or happiness… Promise me not to ever be a kind of Stoic.”
“What’s a stoic?”
“A person who never feels anyone at all. He never hates anyone, but he never loves anyone either. Don’t be afraid to love me, Luther. Don’t stop giving me my good morning hugs.” He said: “Alright” and went to play. I love the little boy in him, and when I hug him, I feel like I’m embracing child-hood again. Today he sprang outside with an umbrella and said: “Ruby move! move! I have to parachute! The Germans are coming!”
Ha! Let the Germans come! I moved out of the way, and he launched himself off the steps, opening the umbrella as he did so. What happened to those days where I was never afraid to pretend in front of my siblings? What happened to the days when the Germans used to come, and we must run for our lives but oh no! Here was a mine-field! Whatever shall we do?! Germans behind us… we must pick our way cautiously. Success! But what’s this? A cliff! Pull out your parachutes, men, we’ve got to jump this one! Jump or die! Sometimes it would be “Fight or die” but jumping was huge in the childhood days.
As I face changes in my life everyday, I realize that the pages are turning more rapidly than I would like. I constantly leave behind “golden hours” that I’ve slipped, and things that should be defined become a blur. An opportunity gone that should have been seized, a memory forgotten that deserved remembrance.
Be careful of letting the golden hours slip….
Don’t rush life. Soak in your youth. Breathe deeply. Pray. Sing. Never be afraid to feel. Watch children, learn from them. In Fydor Dostoyeksy’s book “The Idiot,” Prince Myshkin says: “…neither of us would teach them [children] anything, but they would teach us… Through children the soul is healed.” How much we forget when we grow older!
“Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.” – Wendell Berry (Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front)
Photo copyrights – Rachel Clarke, 2010