'Taking Measure of a Life' - A Commentary | KERA News

'Taking Measure of a Life' - A Commentary

Dallas, TX – I spent my week as usual with grandson A.J., but as a bonus I had the company of my Uncle Wayne. He is 83 and A.J. is five, the same age I was in 1944 when Uncle Wayne came home on leave from the war.

He tells me how he took me to town, to the movies every day, and bought me whatever I wanted. I chose a pair of Everlast boxing gloves. I don't remember any of this but I still have one of the gloves.

At the age I am now it becomes obsessive with you that your life hold together before it is cut, that it is all of a piece like maybe a bolt of cloth when it is rolled out on the counter. This image may not communicate to very many today but it is as good as any I can think of. My grandmother would go into the millinery store and select the material she wanted. The lady behind the counter rolled it out, measured, and cut it with her scissors. I thought it was like a life and death.

In college I read the Greek story of the three ethereal sisters called The Fates. Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis measures it, and Atropos cuts it. If Uncle Wayne knew this story, he would say that Atropos has her scissors on his thread.

He checked out of the Naval Retirement Home in Gulfport last week. He is on his way back home to California. "I'm slipping fast, kid," he told me, "and I didn't want to die down there with strangers." I helped him get on the plane, a complicated process for him now. He can no longer handle details. He has given up driving because he continued to get lost in what was once familiar territory. Sometimes I had to remind him that he had checked out of the Naval Home and that he is on his way to the Masonic Home near San Francisco, where his daughter lives.

He wanted to visit my mother in the nursing home. She has long since descended into the River of Forgetfulness. He was shaken because she had forgotten who he was. By looking at his older sister, he saw his future.

While he was here he went over his life in detail, his unhappy boyhood as the least-favored child, the war in the Pacific, two loving marriages, thirty glorious years of retirement. I've heard all the stories hundreds of times and grew weary of the sameness of them, of course. They are like a tape that he replays over and over or an autobiography that he has written in his head. It is always the same, word for word.

But I always listen, maybe just for the possibility that he will, in fact, say something different, or better still, tell a new story. But this never happens.

He does this, I think, because, like everyone, he wants, not only to be remembered, but assurance that his life amounted to something more than a birth certificate, a military discharge, a couple of marriage licenses, and a death certificate - a paper trail from the crib to the grave.

A.J. probably won't remember Uncle Wayne, any more than I remembered his visit when I was five. And, unfortunately, Uncle Wayne was unable to take him to the movies and buy him a pair of Everlast boxing gloves. It is my responsibility to tell him, when he is old enough, Uncle Wayne's stories, and hope that, when Atropos has her scissors poised over my thread, A.J. will be there to listen to my own stories, and pass some of the good ones on, as I have done.

Writer Tom Dodge lives in Midlothian.