As I trudge down the road of life, passing through the Geezerhood Gates onto a shorter, steeper trail, I find myself more often glancing behind me as opposed to looking ahead.
I say this not to be maudlin—for I’m sure it is a view all of us of a certain age hold—but as a mere statement of fact.
The road to my rear is long and twisting, filled with tangles of memories, some good, some bad. But it my case, a lot more of the former than the latter. It’s those I prefer to cling to, not dreams of the future. It’s not surprising, I suppose, that I seem to find a lot of truth these days in the old Sigmund Romberg/Oscar Hammerstein standard, “When I Grow Too Old to Dream.”
Again, don’t get the idea I’m bailing out on life. That’s not the case at all. In fact, I’ve begun work on another book, another piece of historical fiction set in WWII. This, after being virtually certain that When Heroes Flew would be my authorial swan song.
I’m beginning to wonder if my shift to writing historical fiction wasn’t a response to some sort of unacknowledged calling hidden away deep within me. A summons to bring into bas-relief the flat, hazy images of days gone by painted by those I loved.
I was able to do that in When Heroes Flew by using anecdotes my late wife, Christina, told be about growing up in Germany before and during WWII. And also by reeling in my own memories of visits to the small town she grew up in, Zell, on the Mosel River.
And now, as I begin my new effort, I find myself peering back even further into the mists of decades past. This time I’m drawing on stories my father related to me about his childhood in a hardscrabble mining town nestled in a deep valley of the Bitterroot Mountains.
The town is literally a ghost town now, but I used my dad’s experiences as a kid there to inform the background of the protagonist in my new work. He, the protagonist, is a young man whose father, like my dad’s dad, told him to get the hell out of Dodge and get a college education.
My dad ended up as a Naval officer during the war, while the hero of my work-in-progress is an Army Air Corps aviator flying a B-25. Of course, he’ll have a much more adventurous time during the war than my dad ever did.
So you see, I’m using my over-the-hill memories to craft something other than visions of loss. In fact, somewhere in the past, there’s Shangri-La.