My father was driving the car thirty miles north from our small rural town to a smaller rural town. I sat in the passenger seat. We didn’t listen to anything but the shushing of the cold road. We drove along the west branch of the Susquehanna, which at that point isn’t nestled in a river valley, but divides a series of mountains, smashing it’s way to it’s destination. It was the first snowfall but the snow never made it past halfway down the mountains, which like other mountains in Pennsylvania, are all the same damn height. You could see snow peeking out beneath the cover of the pines. It wasn’t Christmas yet. I guess you could call it appropriate the way Jack Frost just couldn’t wait.
We were visiting a nursing home and I was along to witness an old man signing a will.
My father is an attorney so that’s the sort of business we were about.
I don’t need to tell you what a nursing home smells like.
We found the old man past a few people -- who looked no older than my dad -- unable to take care of themselves. The people just sat. They sat and farted. That’s what you do when you can’t do anything else.
The old man sat alone in the common room. The TV was blaring loudly but he couldn’t hear it. He was reading a book that looked well older than me. We sat down and my father discussed the requested changes to the will with the old man. The old man read everything and re-read everything. He had a stuffy nose so he pulled a ragged paper towel out of his front shirt pocket and blew his nose. He ripped off a sheet of newspaper from the adjacent table, put the paper towel folded in it, and placed it back into his front shirt pocket.
The old man had only recently been moved into the nursing home. He was capable of taking care of himself but his house was so-far-removed from the so-far-removed town that his children had no other option but to move him into the nursing home. The children were removed from the so-far-removed town -- they had headed off to some Eden of theirs. They had been long gone and deep snow is a danger to stubborn old men.
When my father asked the old man sign every page of his will, the man paused. I couldn’t tell if it was his cold but the old man’s eyes looked glazed with tears.
The old man was reticent. He wasn’t worried about signing away his stuff. I mean, look at us. Most of us have too much shit and never remember to use it or even what to do with it. We are horrid in our materialism. He wasn’t sad about signing his stuff away. He was sad about signing away his memories.
When you get old, you forget. When you get old, you die. Sometimes you don’t get to tell people about why you did things the way you did them. Sometimes you don’t get to share a memory that was significant... somehow. Well, how it was significant you can’t really remember but you do remember that it was significant. We store memories in our stuff; little bits of info that helps dig up something lost into our consciousness. When you lose the stuff that you store memories in, you lose it forever. You lose little bits of your Eden, the memory of good things -- good people and good times. You lose your Garden.
The old man gathered himself, in a central PA way where you puff out your stomach and sink lower into your chair, and began signing. I think the man knew that, while those memories are important, you can never share them again in that way that you want. They’re a false Eden, where things are great but only inside of your head. You can’t share those memories with others. At least, not in the way that you want. They always come out distorted or in the wrong hue. Those memories can’t be passed down through your things like a library passes down information.They’re your Eden but they’re an Eden that can’t be shared.The old man knew that and he signed every single page.
“There’s snow on the mountains,” my father told the old man. The old man set down the pen. “Well, I suppose that there would be,” he replied, “Christmas is coming.”
We took our papers and said farewell.
The old man smiled at something only he knew.