What happens when you add fifteen years to memories that were forty years old when you first wrote them down? The answer, expressed mathematically, is this: 40 + 15 = surprise x gratitude.
The End of the Rainbow
When I was in the fourth grade, our teacher gave us a short reading assignment about a porpoise. Since I had never heard of the animal or seen the word porpoise in print, I ignored the i and assumed the word was “purpose.” The purpose was friendly, and splashed in the water. It was a slippery purpose with rows of tiny sharp teeth. I thought these were odd ways to describe a purpose, but having a naturally poetic turn of mind, I was willing to go along with it. I was ten years old. There was no reason a purpose had to be set forth in strictly business-like terms. As far as I was concerned, a purpose could be a soft leather baseball glove, or the shiny spokes on a new bicycle.
After we finished reading, a discussion began. The porpoise this, the porpoise that. The teacher asked me a question. I had no idea what he was talking about. I said, “I thought it was purpose.” The girl next to me laughed. Neither of us knew that seven years later, she would be homecoming queen and I would be her escort, and that a short time after that, we would drift in other directions and never see each other again. In fact, it didn’t enter into it. I was crushed. Apparently a porpoise was a kind of fish, some sort of happy wet mammal known for being smart. And when people think an animal is smart, by gum, it must really be something. This was proven a few years later by a television show called “Flipper.” Flipper was a porpoise. Or was he a dolphin? Is there a difference? To this day, I still don’t know. Does one of them have a longer snout? Or is the word proboscis? My proboscis is a sunny green field. It is a home run hit by Willie Mays.
I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way. . . .
My father and I were taking a ride in the hills in his 1965 Chevy pickup. We were making the gentle climb on Highway 180 into the little town of Dunlap when a rainbow appeared in the hills to the south. It was vivid and close. As soon as he could, my father turned on a side road, and we headed for the end of the rainbow. I had never been on the road before. It was wet from a recent shower, and steam was rising from the pavement. The rainbow loomed. It plunged into the earth behind a green hill covered with oaks. My father was as excited as I was. What would we find? Treasure? Leprechauns? A doorway to another world? We rounded the bend. The nearer we drove, the larger the rainbow became. We were immersed in color. . . .
An eternity later, with pieces of the rainbow still warm in my adult pockets, I found myself in a hospital room, where I looked down upon my father as he lay sleeping, never to wake again. I whispered the rainbow’s bright colors into his ears, then took the wheel. . . .
I’ve been driving ever since, forward, backward, all around. The old roads look the same, but the landmarks have been rearranged. I see a man along the way. I stop and let him in. Where are you going, friend? Where have you been? To the end of the rainbow, then back again. To the end of the rainbow, then back again. . . .
Songs and Letters, June 18, 2005
[ 987 ]
Categories: Songs and Letters
Tags: Aging, Child and Man, Childhood, Death, Departures, Dolphins, Dunlap, Gratitude, Highway 180, Leprechauns, Memory, My Father, Porpoises, Purposes, Rainbows, The San Joaquin Valley, Willie Mays