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I Am a Little Erased

John W. Pinkerton


When a friend or a family member dies, so does a part of our memories.  I say “our memories” because they are shared memories.  Well, the memories don’t disappear from our own minds, but the testament to the validity of the memories is gone.  Our lone memories are…lonely, and we are a little erased.

If our friends and others are present when we do something which displays character or bravery or generosity or even foolishness, it is a shared memory, unquestioned, but if we must tell another of our acts of character or bravery or generosity, or foolishness, they become subject to scrutiny and doubt.  So the best things that we’ve ever done are best not mentioned for fear it will be considered a fiction.

I first felt this loss of shared memories when my brother passed away.  To say we had a troubled relationship would be a mild expression of the kinship, but immediately upon his death, I realized that he was the only other person who shared so many mutual memories that with his death I alone retained.  I remember most our fishing and golfing experiences together, particularly our times together in the little eight-foot boat on Lake Somerville…a little boat in which you could make almost any move except a sudden one. 

Mother is 96 now.  Most of the folks who witnessed her life are dead: two husbands, mother and father, brother, aunts and uncles, a boatload of cousins, a son, and most friends are gone.  I’m almost the last witness to her life, the last holder of memories of who she has been and who she is.  I was present from the time she was 25, and Linda was present from the time she was 50.  Those who shared her memories from her birth, are dead, most for many years.  In the last few years, Mother forgets that most of the people she has ever known are now dead.  She will ask if we have heard from her mother or her deceased son and others.  Sometimes she organizes her thoughts and says to Linda and me, “You’re the only ones left.”  Of course we’re not the only ones left.  Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren are still with us, but once we get beyond the grandchildren, they barely exist in her memory.  Mother and I have the shared memories of fried chicken, chocolate cake, cold milk, and pet cream swirling in a bowl of blackberries.  Of course, those are not the only memories, but they are strong and true memories, and when she passes away, I alone will have these memories.

Jim Smith, who recently passed away, was a fellow who shared a lot of interesting memories of gambling and bouree and fishing and drinking.  We were comfortable with each other because of shared memories.  The night we hitchhiked back from Opelousas to Baton Rouge in the rain together after a bouree expedition is so vivid it could have happened  yesterday, but now I alone hold this memory.

Or Ronnie June “Tumble” Terry who was my last roommate in college---good times.  And, yes, we were comfortable with each other because of shared memories.  It was almost twenty years before I learned of his death, but during those twenty years, I felt good about him being out in the world doing great things and sharing our memories of when we were roommates and buddies.  I, too, was a little erased from life by his death.

My sister, well, actually she was my half-sister, but I always thought of her simply as my sister, recently passed away.  She suffered from pain for years and at the age of 75 was relieved from her pain.  She and I liked each other and respected each other and to a large extent liked and respected the same people.  We were comfortable with each other and the experiences we had with each other, be it antiquing or collecting or gambling or sharing our thoughts about relatives, were wonderful.  We shared memories, and with her death, I am a little erased. 

Friends and family are those who are the witnesses to our lives.  For the most part, they are the ones who are actually present in the events of our days.  If we are the accumulation of our own behavior, our friends and family are the witnesses to who we were and who we are, and with each death we are a little erased.