LIVING WITH THE PAST
The day after the funeral, Ellen, his daughter who lived in San Francisco, and Ruth Anderson, his one-day-a-week housekeeper drove to the house. It was in the country, about eight miles out of town.
“It’s not because of me that Mr. Spencer’s house is the way it is,” Ruth said as they drove to the home. “He told me to come every Friday, wash his clothes, bring groceries and his medicine, and anything else he wanted--sometimes stamps. Mr. Spencer wouldn’t let me touch anything.”
The house had not seen repairs or paint in a long time. There was rot on the front porch steps. Spiders had found the eaves attractive shelters. Dirt dauber nests abounded. A downspout hung loose. The yard had long ago been reclaimed by nature.
The house smelled of time--dusty, musty, moldy. Ellen discerned the disorder, the aggregate of matter that covered the floors, chairs, and tables.
Ellen and her father had not seen each other since her mother died, when she moved to San Francisco. Although in touch by phone on occasions, at Christmas, a card for his birthday, she never returned--literally or emotionally. She had her drummer.
They went through each room. Clutter, disarray, the detritus of time, cast in a senseless collage, was about them. Entropy writ large.
Ellen was struck by an incongruity: a round table, about three feet in diameter, sat between her father’s chair and the television. Unlike everything else, it was uncluttered, nothing was under it. A small wooden box with a lid rested in the middle. She delicately opened it.
Inside was a folded piece of paper. Old paper. She carefully unfolded it. It was a small calendar. The month of June. The year 1935. June 3 was circled. Ellen instantly recognized the date: her birthday.
Images of her and her father passed through her mind. Tears welled up.
Sixty-six years ago this piece of paper with the birthdate of his only child, Ellen, melded into his life. For 66 years Spencer Gates treasured this memento.
He kept the day of her birth enshrined on this simple alter which he composed and maintained. He thus remembered her daily, no matter what his day otherwise was.
He had loving thoughts of her to the end. She was all left that was dear and meaningful to him. All else had been abandoned--the house, the yard, himself.
Tears streamed from her eyes, touched by the pain of the impossibility to turn back the clock...having not known of this unrequited affection.
The arrow of time goes in one direction. We learn that soon.
Sometimes it’s too late when we appreciate, if ever, that nothing is more permanent, more forever gone, than the past.
Especially the past that we might have written differently.
It’s this past that we often have to live with for the rest of our life.