In Proust’s Swann’s Waythere is a passage about the evocative power of madeleines. The narrator tastes the sweet and his mind flashes back through time as he suddenly and vividly recalls a distant past and place when he had a similar taste sensation.
I think Proust was onto something here. I recently discovered the band Dire Straits and their song “Tunnel of Love.” It is a song about a guy meeting a girl at an amusement park. The song includes the phrase “when we were young.” That phrase, like Proust’s narrator’s madeleines, caused a flood of memories.
When I was young, I remember hitting an inside-the-park home run on July 4 at the only game my Pop Hubbuch ever saw me play.
When I was young, I remember waking up in the night, and going down the stairs on a hot summer evening in our house on Indiana Avenue to get a drink of water, and bracing myself for the inevitable scurry of the cockroaches in the bathroom when I turned on the light.
When I was young, I remember my dad, with me and brother Bob in a boat, picking off copperheads with a .22 rifle on Turkey Fork Creek. The smell of gunpowder. The sweat running down my neck. The explosive crack of the rifle.
When I was young, I remember how humiliated I was when I peed my pants at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and how kind Sister Patricia Ann was in helping me with the embarrassment.
It’s all kind of sad. When I was young it was just me and my family. No job. No children. No aging parents. No thought of dying. Just my pals and my cousins and my mom and dad and my brother and sister. Life was a long road of endless, perfect days that stretched to the horizon and beyond.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my current life, filled with grandchildren, travel, books, movies and diminished stress and responsibility. I do understand the way of the world. Our pasts are gone forever.
But none of us — whether we are 18 or 68 can ever go back to when we were young.
Proust says it far better than I: Our past is “only a thin slice among contiguous impressions which formed our life at the time; the memory of a certain image is but regret for a certain moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fleeting, alas, as the years.”