Monday, April 24, 2006

A Summer with Charlie

by Richard E. Noble

This is one of those stories that is supposed to make you cry. If you read it and you don’t cry, you’re a better man than I am, Charlie Brown! This is a short story, but it tags all the bases. It deals with the “big stuff’. It deals with life, love, morality, sex, death, religion, friendship, boys and girls, growing up, home, neighborhood and country. For me it is a trip down memory lane. It’s the old days, the old places and the old “gang”. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, it is a story of memories, youth and laughter.
I feel like a scientist observing the universe in this book. I can tell you about the planets and the stars. I can theorize and analyze. I can tell you a lot of things. I can explain to you a lot of stuff. I can describe events in detail. I can tell you how. I can tell you where. I can tell you when. But I can’t tell you why.
When I was young, I thought of love as a passion. It was a drive, a compulsion, even, in some strange ways, a duty. Now that I am old, I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why it is. I observe it once again like the scientist observing the planets. I don’t know why it happens. I don’t know where it comes from. I have no explanation for “that” look in a girl or boy’s eye; for all those mysterious feelings.
I once thought that it was all about hormones. All my hormones have pretty much dried up and have now turned into liver spots; yet I still love. I still have love. I realize now that life is, as the philosophers say, a phenomenon. Death is the same.
I recently read a book by a man who had lived through both World Wars. He saw a lot of men and women executed. He wrote a section on observing how they reacted to the experience. How some went off kicking and screaming; how some were defiant; how some fell to their knees and begged. Instead of naming this book, “A Summer with Charlie”, it could just as well have been called, “Watching Charlie Die”.
In my life, I have watched a lot of friends, relatives and loved ones die. I have witnessed them turn like the leaves of autumn. I have seen them change from living, laughing, vibrant things, into cold, lifeless phenomena. It is a sad thing, but a happenstance that we will each experience very personally. Once again, I can describe the how, the where, and the when, but I can not tell you why. And if the truth be known, nobody can. Not your priest, not your rabbi, not your preacher. They have been trying for centuries. They are all guessing. No matter how confident they may seem, it is all conjecture. No one knows why. Maybe there is no why. In fact, there is no science that deals with the why of anything. We don’t know why the tree, the bug, the ant, the human, the universe. We can only deal with the how, the when and the where of it all.
Ever since it happened, I promised myself that I would write this story if I ever had the time, the money and, hopefully, the talent. Well, I’ve found the time and the money; the talent has been illusive. I finally had to give up waiting for it to come and take matters into my own hands.
This story is a description of the time ... my time; the place ... my place, my hometown, my growing up; and events - the events of my life and those of some of my buddies. It is what happened.
I hope you all enjoy this book. And strangely enough, I hope that it makes you cry. I hope it makes you laugh also.
This is not a new story. People have been dying for a long, long time; even youngsters like Charlie. You may not be planning for it right at this moment, but your plans could be interrupted; mine also. Death is not something that we like to dwell upon but it does one well to think about it every now and then.
What makes this story unique is that it happened to me and some of my teenage friends. It was an experience that affected all of us, and for the rest of our lives. None of us would ever be the same. Each of us was marked and bound together. The memory of our experience with Charlie that summer would be forever a part of our being. Charlie was one of us. He was one of the guys, one of the old gang. He was our buddy. He wasn’t old enough to be dying. But he did ... and we watched. Charlie said that he didn’t know how. He didn’t know how to die. We all watched Charlie die and we learned how to do it with grace and style. I can only hope to do it as well myself when my turn comes along.

[For more information about my books “A Summer with Charlie” and “Hobo-ing America” e-mail me!]

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