A View from the Hill: ‘Long may you run’

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It happened again. I knew your birthday was a day away, but I hadn’t thought about the fact that you would have been 75 on this June 10.

I had figured tomorrow would be tough but doable. Today would be just another day. I’ll deal with tomorrow when it comes. Then a friend asked how I was doing with the approach of June 10. I was touched by his thoughtfulness.

I went home and washed and dried all the dishes because the dishwasher, fully loaded, of course, had broken. The warm water washing over my hands felt good. I put on some music and washed. And thought of you. Us.

Neil Young: “Long may you run/ Long may you run/ Although these changes/ Have come/ With your chrome heart shining/ In the sun/ Long may you run.”

This song is about a hearse Neil owned. He was 21 or something. What did he know of life? But it can also be a metaphor for so many things. Loss, love, hope. When I see a heart of chrome I don’t see a hearse’s shining grill. Strange thing about metaphors: They can be found everywhere, even if they weren’t intended. 

I see you: Shining, solid, heart. 

Tomorrow I will wish you a happy birthday. But today feels like the day you have chosen to share with me. 

This morning while exercising outside I bent down and had a memory that shone like a crystal. Culebra. A breeze. Us in town to drop the trash and take a walk. Sun. Breeze. What is it that makes my brain go and fetch this particular vision? A waft of warm air on my cheek? A whiff from the nearby beach roses?

This happens more now than at any time over the last few years. Us, at a precise place on Earth, together, everything stunningly real, an etching more than a memory. A particular tree near a particular granite boulder on a particular lake with a particular breeze creating particular wavelets that shimmer just so. 

A thin slice of time as if plucked from a brain scan.

You wouldn’t like that I am going to submit this as a column. Not your style. But my two or three loyal readers know I often write about who I am and what informs who I am. Plus I have this space, and an early deadline and an editor with no time to pull something else out of the ether.

Anyway, we all should talk more about death and grief. Some might say, “Wow, this guy’s a wreck. Get over it. Move on.” On to where exactly? And I’m not a wreck. Just another person moving through life negotiating a giant challenge. If you saw me in the grocery store, you’d never suspect.

But I have a feeling the window washers who arrived in the midst of my deep musings this morning might have guessed what was going on. Maybe the music told them. Or the moist eyes.

It has been very hot here. Stay-at-home hot. Of course, you’d be spending the day in the garden anyway, doing whatever you did for all those hours over all those years. The garden is 10 feet by 15 feet. I am hard-pressed to find enough to do to fill 15 minutes there. 

What on earth were you doing?

Your garden friends haven’t forgotten you. I’m sure they are dismayed by what they see going on in our plot now.

I keep your granite memorial bench in the school garden supplied with shells and rocks and twigs from your many collections, still, three years later. I love to hold them. And to let them go. 

The kids in the garden, which is now an outdoor classroom in your memory, abscond with the treasures I have left and I find them under the plum tree, where a fanciful game has transported the players to some distant, mystical place.

The garden coordinator says they love to find your treasures. That makes me so happy. I smile then weep.

I have a friend whose daughter died at about the same time you did. She put a memorial bench on some city land. There are always some sort of lovely flowers there. This spring, I noticed daffodils nearby. She told me she and her friends sneak down at night and plant them. I love that.

I’m also inspired by it. I got permission today to expand your memorial garden. We’re going to work on that tomorrow. 

So it’s a day early, but what the heck. Happy 75th. Long may you run. I see you. I love you.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.