Like Peter Pan I tend to retreat into memories from time to time, it gives me solace especially when my own mortality rears its ugly head. I still remember gathering around the television to watch the stage production of Peter Pan staring Mary Martin, it was only on television once a year, for me that day was magical. From time to time I am still lucky enough as to find my Never Never Land.
I held my Uncle Jim's hand in the ICU last night, I was telling him stories of how smart I always thought he had looked in his hat when I was a little boy. Men always wore hats with their suits in the early 60's, at least the men that I knew. They were so much more convincing than other men, the men in hats I mean.
Pope John died that spring , that is all I can remember as far as details of the event, but I will always remember the Sunday afterward. My entire family met at Holy Rosary Church for Mass. I dressed in my best little man suit, complete with my little man hat, I knew that this must be very important. The only meaningful recollections of the event for me were the looks on the faces in the crowd, they were so interesting and yet disturbing at the same time. I had no true understanding of what the Pope symbolized and therefore made the leap that it actually did not concern me, so I spent my time studying the crowd. The faces, looking at all the faces, especially the faces of my family, the infinite sadness etched into my grandmother's face, I used to think her face was made of wax, her skin was so smooth. The collective stern and stoic gazes given by my uncles, my aunts and my parents, most of all I remember the confusion and disinterest shown by most of my cousins.
Had I been born with any artistic ability at all it this would make one hell of a painting.
Little Jimmy (hey that's me)
Very early that same summer we made our big move to California, school had just ended and we would shortly be embarking on what my mother kept assuring me was to be the adventure of a lifetime. Her assurances were to no avail, my little heart was broken, I was leaving my friends, my school, the Pittsburgh Pirates, my cousins, aunts, uncles, Grandma Boyle but most of all I would be leaving my beloved Nana and Dickie Bird. I can still feel the unfairness, it made no sense to leave your family, I just don't understand. I was to learn that summer that heartbreak is very real, that it is possible to be so sad that you don't get hungry, to cry so long that you have no tears, to scream and yell until you are blue in the face and yet in the end your heart is still broken.
Late that fall we were sent home from school on that fateful November morning, President Kennedy had been shot. I remember the slow almost snail paced walk home from school, I remember the toes on my black high top tennis shoes, the scuffing noise my heals made as I refused to lift my feat. I stared straight down as I walked the entire length of Woodbridge Ave. I wasn't sure why, it somehow seemed the right thing to do. We watched the news as a family that night, I think it was Walter Cronkite that described it as the end of innocence, I had no idea what he was talking about, I had not ever seen my parents look so helpless. I remember later that week was my heart pounding in my chest while we watched the funeral and saw a little boy, a boy who at that time seemed so much younger than me salute his fallen father, he still looked very innocent to me.
My aunt Jeannette woke me gently, "Jimmy, you have been here all night" "Why don't you go back to the house and get some rest?" "Uncle Jim is doing fine right now, really he is".
Five hours had passed since I had started thinking about men in hats and Peter Pan, my hand was still firmly grasped around my Uncle Jim's. I wonder if he went with me back to 1963, I will have to ask him when he is feeling better, yes when he is feeling better.
I know a place where dreams are born, and time is never at hand.
It's not on any chart you must find it in your heart, never never land.