On my recent visit to the Jersey town in which I grew up, I took a walk and found myself standing in front of the house where I spent my kid years, across the street from the school field where brothers and friends played baseball on countless days until, as Jonathan Holden wrote, “the ball is khaki—/a movable piece of the twilight/...and routine grounders get lost in/the sweet grass for extra bases.”
But before the sky darkened, we often shimmied up the drain pipe in a hidden corner of the school to the flat roof and ran around hoping to find a baseball that other kids had hit up there and abandoned like a bad idea, a baseball that was always in better shape than the ones wrapped in black electrical tape that we usually used.
And the house. Truth be told, not much about it has changed since I left for college over 50 years ago. I found comfort in that. And a measure of gratitude as well.
When I finally stepped into the street to leave, in the gutter I found a baseball. I picked it up and rubbed it in my hands, feeling a sense of comfort in its roughness. And gratitude.
As I slipped the ball into my jacket pocket, I thought of what John Banville wrote in the opening section of his new Memoir, Time Pieces, “When does the past become the past? How much time must elapse before what merely happened begins to give off the mysterious, numinous glow that is the mark of true pastness? After all, the resplendent vision we carry with us in memory was once merely the present, dull and mundane and wholly unremarkable.... What is the magic that is worked upon experience, when it is burnished to a finished radiance?...Let us say, the present is where we live, while the past is where we dream. Yet if it is a dream, it is substantial, and sustaining....And when does the past become the past?”
I’d love to hear what you think of Banville’s final question.