The father of a very good friend of mine, let’s call him Bob, was a great guy, and a World War II Army veteran. We joked that he lived his life just 3 beers from Anzio. Anzio was the site of an Allied forces landing (Operation Shingle) and ensuing battle (known as the Battle of Anzio) during World War II. American forces (5th Army) were surrounded by Germans in the caves of Pozzoli in February 1944 for a week, suffering heavy casualties. We knew that when he popped the top off the fourth Pabst Blue Ribbon we were going to start hearing war stories.
I don’t know how old he was then. I was 18 or 19. My guess is, though, that he was then a lot younger than I am now. And I’m beginning to understand. Although I don’t drink Pabst Blue Ribbon [I did drink more than my share] I’ve become aware now that I’m well into my 60’s that I am often tempted to start telling personal war stories or stories about the good old days.
It starts innocently enough. Someone mentions a place, or an event, or a situation and it triggers some memory. I do my best to quietly listen while my mind races around my own experience. I doesn’t matter if it was a pleasant or unpleasant experience. Once my mind goes into that cave there’s no getting it back.
I see this most often around my grandchildren. Even though they are only 5 and 6 years old I somehow believe that I need to bring them up-to-date on the historical nuances of my life. Sentences that begin with “Did grandpa ever tell you about” are already met with rolling eyes. It’s only going to get worse as they, and I, get older.
There’s a t-shirt that reads “The older I get, the better I used to be”. For runners it should read “The older I get, the faster I used to be”. For the most part, it’s true. For most of us the fastest years of our running lives were the youngest years. Even if, like me, you didn’t start until you were a bit older you were still younger than you are now.
And maybe it’s OK. Maybe as we get older the stories that stay in the front of our minds are the ones we want to remember that most and the ones that we want to tell most often.
So the next time you start telling a story that no one seems to want to hear, think about Bob. In the end he wasn’t telling us about Anzio, he was telling us about himself.
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