September and a Place for Memory

By Neil Earle

Neil 1962 – a callow fellow indeed.

There is no doubt about it, there is something about late September-early October that lends itself to subdued, vintage reflections. It’s like that Sixties song by the Fantastiks:

“Try to remember, the kind of September…when you were a tender and callow fellow…”

September and classes starting makes me think of two things: enrolling at two colleges in 1962 and 1968. The 1962 rendition I’m focused on here tells of a too young teen (me) at age 15 enrolling at university in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

What makes this memory special is how my mother accompanied me to St. John’s, 70 miles away. We had no car at the time so she lined up a ride with Doug Chubbs of Carbonear, a sort of cool guy back then who drove a 1961 Volkswagen Beetle.

Friend in Beetle, Goose Bay 1968.

The Volkswagens (“the pregnant roller skates”) were all the rage then and my mom and Doug are both deceased. Funny thing is, my mother forgot this story last time I mentioned it to her back in Canada (she passed on in 2017 at age 90).

October 1961 – Eleanor Roosevelt opens Memorial University in St. John’s, NL and my mom was there. Two classy ladies sixty years ago.

“Marker Events”

But at age 15 things stick in your mind pretty well and coming from a Newfoundland fishing/shipbuilding town – Carbonear, population 4500 – to the capital in St. John’s was indeed what my cousin Ron called “the great adventure.” Leaving home for the first time at age 15 was bound to be a marker event. That’s why I have emblazoned on my mind another song that seems to bring that September back. It was Carole King’s “It might as well rain until September” which played on the radio as we drove the distance to my mom’s sister house which was sort of “family central” for the rest of us while visiting the Big City.

Again, all of these things parents did for us back then takes years to appreciate. In a good family it seems like you are being carried along in an expected tide of events as on a conveyor belt. Years later at college in England people would ask if I came from a “close family” and I would be puzzled by the question. In the words of another close friend from the same general time and place: “Was there any other kind? If so, we didn’t know about it.”

Graduation 1966 with mom and dad – made it!

There were five people in my graduating class from venerable old St. James School in Carbonear. The lineups for registration (1500 of us!) were the biggest crowds I’d ever seen coming from a small town. Mom had the sense to appropriately leave me to fend for myself and my blood sugar must have dipped waiting in that enormous line as my ID photo showed. But I came through eventually, graduated in 1966 and met friends through the process I still cherish.

“Mystic Chords”

I thought I was the youngest Freshman at 15. But one thing you learn in life is your perspective is always shifting through the kaleidoscope of time passing. There were others my age – Rex Murphy for one who went on to achieve fame on “The National” newscast in Canada.

This was a big part of my induction into growing up – marker events the psychologists call them. Later on when George Lucas made the movie “American Graffitti” I could identify most with a young Richard Dreyfus as Kurt, struggling to leave home and become a journalist himself. When the movie poster asked, “Where were you in ’62?” at least I had an answer.

So, what’s the lesson here?

Rex Murphy: radio host, newspaper columnist and TV pundit known for his silver tongue and sarcastic wit.

Simply that it’s OK to be nostalgic sometimes. Abraham Lincoln talked about those “mystic chords of memory” that link us to the past and General Douglas MacArthur reminisced of his days at West Point that “their memory is one of wondrous beauty, waxed and caressed by the smiles and tears of yesterday.” Not surprisingly the Bible endorses the benefits of treasuring special moments from the past. Deuteronomy says, “Remember the days of old,” and that includes our own. We gain wisdom when we reflect on time passing as Psalm 90:12 says. And if you still have friends from that earlier time that is a wonderful blessing in a day and age that lives by something as shallow as…Twitter.

The Volkswagen Beetle, mom, Rex Murphy and George Lucas – all connected to me in the circle of life. I well realize not everyone has fond memories of growing up family-like and these perhaps get the wide-ranging publicity they deserve. But some of us have different experiences and it is important to not let these subside as well. Yes, try to remember, and see if it doesn’t work some strange magic and help you cope better with the mysterious Future.