Thursday, February 12, 2009

Anticipation and Memory

There was a man who taught English at my high school named Thomas Moore. Really. And though he was not British, he never corrected any student who called him Sir Thomas. In fact, I think he rather liked it, and it may not even be too out of line to say he encouraged such address. There was an air of mystery about Sir Thomas as well, though over time enough details surfaced to make his life the envy of any small town person aspiring for romance. He graduated from BYU at age 20, having been something of a wunderkind. He met his wife there, and though he was a couple of years younger than she, he fell madly in love at first sight: he was even able to tell you down to the handbag what she was wearing when they first met.

She was an Eccles. If you are from (way) Northern Utah, this will mean something. If not, think "Huntsman" or "Marriot" and you are getting in the ballpark of the money this family has and the number of buildings sporting their name. She was loaded. They bought an old mansion in one of the very few aging-gracefully neighborhoods in Ogden and spent tens of thousands in restoring it. But not perfect restoration: he once spoke with great vehemence about berating a contractor for trying to fix a squeaky stair railing. "I bought this house because of that squeak!" Only Sir Thomas could say such a thing and make it sound noble, as if he alone was battling callous modernization. It was rumored that he taught at our school as a hobby, and that he was not actually paid.

Besides the house in Ogden, there was a flat in London. Every year, for several years, he had taken a student or two with his family for two weeks in the winter. These blessed students were hand-selected from his classes and were always the best of the best. My friend's older brother went and Sir Thomas paid for everything. Times changed and Sir Thomas was probably not unaware of the questions of propriety in taking selected students with him. In addition, teaching all AP prep English, he ended up with loads of fantastic students, many of whom wanted to go on the trip. The year I came to high school, he began opening up the trip to anyone who could afford to go. The itinerary was enough to make one drool: museums, 7 trips to the theatre and Windsor Castle. He said that if too many students signed up his flat would be too small, and so students would stay in a variety of apartments around Kensington station. These other flats were owned by Sir Thomas' friends, one of whom was the CEO of Payless Shoes.

I was not in Thomas Moore's class. I had The Rat. (The only place she ever went was to the hairdresser each week to have her hair teased into a modified beehive in which she usually lost a pencil or two. Tuesday was her appointment and by Monday she always looked a little bit disheveled.) My best friend, however, was in Sir Thomas' class and we poured longingly over the trip information. It was agreed--we would approach our parents and she would tell her mother that I could go if she could; I would tell my parents that she could go if I could.

Remarkably, beyond any expectation my life to that point had given me, my parents said yes. And so did her mother.

Then began many long months of anticipation. We wrote at least three notes a day to one another, trading them between classes at our adjoining lockers. Kate was a writer and her notes were wonderful. I still have them saved in a decorated shoebox somewhere, unwilling to throw out the evidence and documentation of what was easily the most important friendship of my teenage years. But in the all the voluminous correspondence passed over the years, there is only ONE line from ONE note that I memorized. Less than a month before our departure for England, she paraphrased a discussion from Sir Thomas' class thus, "The memories and anticipation of summer vacation are better than the holiday itself."

The memorable things in our life tend to be long looked forward to, but the event themselves are short-lived--a concert, a first date with someone special, seeing a convert baptised, holidays, vacations, birth, a wedding day, for example. But how many hours of enjoyment come from re-telling the stories of these events? How many lessons are learned as we walk away from, digest and assimilate our experience? And how many lives are shaped by the perception of what happened in the past, rather than what actually happened?

Anticipation gives us something to look forward to. It helps make the mundane tasks of day to day seem a little bit more bearable; and, perhaps, a little bit more meaningful. Memory gives us something to hang our lives on. It gives us "June roses in the December of our lives."

Plantboy and I will be married ten years in June and we have only taken an anniversary trip once. (For our 5th anniversary, thanks to Forecast Calls For Rain and husband.) Nearly two years ago, we vowed that whatever happened and however we had to make it work, we would do something big this year.

And we are.

Though our anniversary is in June, the best time for us to get babysitting for several days is in April. The best place for us to get babysitting for several days is in Utah. So to Utah in April it is, but Plantboy and I are going to go places neither of us have been for years and destinations we've never been together. We are going to spend several days in southern Utah hitting as many national parks as we can. We will do a combination of camping and staying in bed and breakfasts. We will hike and whatever else strikes us as interesting. (I'm going to really strive to be spontaneous, outside of the advance bookings that are necessary.) Mostly we will enjoy the deep quiet that comes in wide open spaces where there are no kids begging to have their every need met. I think I'm looking most forward to Capitol Reef, which seems to be in the middle of nowhere and there is nary a picture with a living soul in it.

I know that to many of you, such a vacation, even sans kids, seems more like a punishment than a getaway. But you can have your cruises and your outlet malls and your airports and your theme parks. . . give me a tank full of gas, a sleeping bag and, mostly, solitude, then I can find my bliss. The anticipation is high. I hope the memories will sustain us through the next ten years.

Since my friend's note all those years ago, I have found the following quote by Flaubert, "Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory." I wonder if perhaps that was the springboard for the discussion in Sir Thomas' class? But I think I like Kate's way of saying it best--that the anticipation and memory are actually better than the events themselves. In the end, we only have the sum total of what we have learned from our experiences with which to leave this life. What are you looking forward to this year? Or even better, what is your favorite memory from years past?


Melanie said...

Great post, as always. I think your vacation sounds wonderful. As much as I love visiting the "important" cities and countries of the world, spending time in less exotic locations can be wonderful too. Without the pressure to see and do everything you'll be able to spend more time just enjoying what's around you and acting upon your whims and fancies.

I totally agree that anticipation and memory are many times better than an actual event itself. I guess that's why I take so many pictures. I love having a visual reminder to conjure up the memories of past people, places, and events.

Sir Thomas sounds like a lovely English teacher. Maybe I should have my students start calling me by an odd (non teacher-like) title. Because I'm so close in age to many of them it feels odd to have them call me Professor S*****, but I'm afraid that if I let them call me by my first name they'll become too familiar and not give me the respect that I need to maintain order in the classroom.

Christie said...

I love making plans! This year I'm looking forward to lots of hikes -- the Wellsville hike has me ultra-motivated. One of my all-time favorite memories is from when I was in late highschool/early college. The garden froze leaving many almost ripe tomatoes ruined and oozing on the vines. My dad came up with the idea for a spur-of-the-moment game of tomato baseball. We all changed into grubby clothes and took turns whacking inedible tomatoes into oblivion! It was the most fun I've ever had in the garden.

Sunnie said...

just so you know, i laughed so hard at your comment on my blog. i don't know why it struck me as so funny, but it did. thanks- laughing is always good and i don't do it enough.

chosha said...

I lived in Japan for three years, 2000-2003. Now every time I go back to visit (3 times since I left) I spend a few months planning and looking forward to the trip. The trip is always great, but goes way too fast. The memories take me through the new few months as I miss it anew. So even though your post (and Sir T's quote) is messing with the 'live in the now' paradigm, I can't help but agree with you both.

Slyck and Slim said...

My grandmother once wrote to me, "All a person needs in life to be happy is something to do, something to look forward to, and someone to love." Nice post.

Suburban Hippie said...

This is a lovely post. I am excited for you guys and your trip... it doesn sound like fun.

I do have moments sometimes when I think to myself "this is one of those precious moments." It's often the little things don't you think.

Desmama said...

There was (at least when I was there, and maybe still) an English professor at BYU named . . . . wait for it . . . William Shakespeare. Not even kidding.

And how right you are about anticipation and memory . . . sometimes it's not the event itself so much as what it becomes to us--I've definitely found that to be the case.

As for what I'm looking forward to this year . . . I hope to get away for maybe a day or two to Seattle. I really liked when I was there the last time and I'd like to go again, stroll down Pike's Market and take a boat around Puget Sound. It was really nice and the last trip . . . came at an exceptionally hard time in my life and was really restful.

chris w said...

I was lucky enough to attend class with Sir Thomas and I am forever grateful for the ability to dissect a sentence, an interest in great works, and the ability to understand Shakespeare. He's the reason I got the score I did on the ACT test and the AP test and for the vocabulary that I have. When I went to Italy with my husband and could recognize from memory all of the art pieces of Michealangelo, (because 10 years earlier he had made us memorize them as we read the book "The Agony And The Ecstasy", I finally understood his mad genius. He really showed me what a great teacher was. Thanks for bringing back some amazing memories.

I am looking forward to all sorts of adventures this year. I am finally learning the joy of "living in the moment."

Science Teacher Mommy said...

So far, Christie's excellent father is taking the cake for a memory that influenced his children. Like paintball meets baseball meets composting. Good times.

Michelle said...

I think I am going to have to make a stitch of Slyck and Slim's grandmother's quote. Blaine and I had a tenth anniversary trip planned since we were dating and that past us by uneventfully last year. I think this year's trip will more than make up for it though.

Michelle said...

I think I am going to have to make a stitch of Slyck and Slim's grandmother's quote. Blaine and I had a tenth anniversary trip planned since we were dating and that past us by uneventfully last year. I think this year's trip will more than make up for it though.

kanaboke said...

I looked forward to my little sister coming for a visit....she just left this afternoon. It's a visit I shall not soon forget..she'll probably be the only one in my immediate family that's seen Henry as a "baby"..and we had lots of fun finding, and catching up with ol' friends from BYU-H..and rehashing some Great Memories!! Thanks for such a beatiful post!!