Al Knable latest (copy)

Al Knable

“Hello!” I said cheerfully once the door finally opened, some thirty seconds after ringing the bell a second time.

My neighbor has gotten a bit slower since making his acquaintance some fifteen years ago, as I must admit have I.

“And ‘Hello!’ to you. Please come in!”

I was out making my annual rounds, delivering some spiked eggnog and knew I could count on this stop for a little warmth, figuratively to be sure-he’s a great conversationalist- but also literally which was much welcomed after more than an hour out in the cold.

We briefly spoke of Christmas, pleasant but genuine exchanges, then several minutes more of how the pandemic has altered life these past two years not only for us but the world at large, and of the year to come…

I declined his offer to remove my coat and sit a spell, too many other promises to keep, but in departure I stopped to tarry in the foyer, gazing at the portraits. Three life sized (from the waist up), life like paintings of presumably family- quickly confirmed as such upon asking- austerely locking eyes with me from above.

I was drawn more to one than the others for its subject’s resemblance in dress and stature to our sixteenth President and offered up as much. “My grandfather.” explained my friend. “But here’s a story of Lincoln,” he began, and what he recounted next sent a chill down my spine.

It turns out that the gentleman in the portrait’s father, my friend’s great-grandfather, was born in approximately 1862. At the age of three he was present at President Lincoln’s long funerary journey from the Capital to Springfield at its stop in Indianapolis. When the child’s father lifted him to see the open casket he evidently created enough commotion that it made an indelible impression upon his memory- one that he passed to his great-grandson as, aged four or five, he sat upon his knee some ninety years later. My now seventy year old friend thus heard a firsthand account of Lincoln’s body’s viewing.

Here I was on a cold Sunday in 2021 getting a second hand account of one of our country’s singular greatest tragedies.

Granted, I am a history nerd, but sometimes the boxcars of time collide with one another in such a way that even a casual observer must take note of how recent “ancient history” really is.

Ponder these compressions of time:

• George Washington died in 1799. A child born in that year living to be 100 would have seen 1899. A child born in that year living a century would have seen 1999. Another future centenarian born then would be only twenty-two years old today- less than three life times removed from our Founding Father.

• The last surviving widow of a Civil War veteran died in January of 2021- this year!

Of my own experience:

• My father told me second hand accounts heard firsthand from his Uncle Alfred of the 1898 Spanish American War.

• I had the honor of knowing numerous World War 1 veterans, among them a Russian vet I shared vodka shots with in Moscow in 1992 and an American who flew open cockpit fighters in WW1, Corsairs in WW2, jets in Korea and Vietnam.

• I’ve had the privilege of firsthand conversations with WW2 veterans from six different countries including, of most notoriety, numerous discussions with the pilot of the Enola Gay.

And here’s the thing- there is nothing special about me. We are all inextricably woven into those “mystic chords of memory” more than we might ever realize.

My point- let’s put down our phones and other devices as we gather by our proverbial firesides this winter and share some family and neighborhood tales before they are lost.

Because as surely as time is capable of immense compression it also expands without pause or measure; too soon we shall be motes cast upon some distant solar wind racing ever forward into the endless expanse of deep time.

Make haste!

Soon arrives January- named for the Roman god Janus, depicted with two faces, one looking into the past, the other with the ability to see into the future.

(Again, I am reminded of Lincoln, who when accused of being “two-faced” during a debate quipped: “If I had another face, do you think I’d wear this one?”)

Unlike Janus, I cannot predict the future but I am optimistic that better days are ahead for each of us, not only individually, but collectively- as a community and as a country.

I began writing this column at the beginning of the COVID crisis because I was concerned with a general lack of direction and confidence from our political leadership. It was my hope to convey a positive message during what may be the most trying of times many of us have or might ever confront. To that end, I hope I have had some modest success.

In a selfish manner, I do know that sharing some thoughts and stories along the way has been of help to me and for that I am grateful to the News and Tribune for providing a platform and to you for reading.

And now, I must be going, for a time at least.

The News and Tribune has a wise policy of not allowing active political candidates to have a regular editorial presence on its pages during years in which they are running for office and as that describes me for the year 2022 I will now go on hiatus.

Before exiting, a brief anecdote which not only sums up much of the fun I’ve had doing this but is also the best example of a back-handed complement I’ve received in many years.

A few weeks ago I was approached by an elderly woman after church. She began with “Aren’t you…” and I expected her to ask a medical question or register a concern about city politics. Instead she surprised me by finishing her sentence with, “…the fella who writes for the Tribune?”

“Yes” I answered, genuinely taken aback and pleased to hear her continue by saying how much she enjoyed reading my articles and looked forward to more.

I thanked her but then informed her I would have to take a break in 2022 owing to NT policy to which she snapped in friendly reply, “Honey, I wouldn’t give two sticks (edited) for your politics and I don’t know what kind of doctor you make but I sure like your stories.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

Trending Video