Thursday, November 08, 2007

Existential question of the day

I dropped in today to the local senior center, which is cheerfully called The Friendly Center. I played two hands of bridge (lost one, darn it) and heard some stories. Having recently been with a group of Presbyterian women who wanted to learn more about telling their own stories to their families, and also because I was there prospecting for local history, I was conscious of how many years of personal history were in the room in the lives of those 135 people. Bernice, who will be 98 in January and looks like she's in her 80s, shared some of her history with me, including having a grandfather who was a lamplighter in Chicago's Marquette Park. She was aboard TWA flight 847 when it was hijacked by two Lebanese gunmen in June 1985. She was among the first group of people let off the plane because the hijackers had decided "to let the old ladies go," she said. She was 75. She remembered the name of the heroic flight attendant who spoke German and could communicate with one of the hijackers, the captain's name, the name of the Navy diver who was the single fatality during the protracted ordeal. (There were 152 people on the plane.) People remember little pieces of history, which is a much bigger story. A propos of something else (the game trophies bagged by her late husband, a hunter) Bernice's friend Viola asked, "What are you supposed to do with your memories?" I hope I learn the answer.

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