Friday, November 6, 2009

A Country For Old Men

So I had a surge of documentary energy this past week, and I put together some good material. The next phase that I need to do is about my childhood in Kansas City. Specifically when I lived on 73rd and Norton, which for so many years has drawn a range of emotions. When my mother and I lived there I felt like I was really a part of something. It was the only place I felt was home. It was a closed off community, not by design but by circumstance. It was the type of neighborhood that did not have through street traffic, but instead only two streets led in and out of it, and not in a straight line. This in a sense made the neighborhood a secure safe haven for those of us who lived there.

For me, it was also this neighborhood design that created a sense of exclusivity since it gave me the feeling that our neighborhood was the entire world. On one side of the neighborhood were the woods that were a part of a huge park, Swope Park, further inclosing the neighborhood from outsiders. I remember thinking that a certain street that led outside of our neighorhood led to a completely different world, and traveling beyond it was like leaving the planet.

Every kind of life cycle event affected everyone in the neigborhood and in the summer there were community barbecues at least once or twice a month. One of the things I enjoyed was to listen to the older men talk. I can't quite figure out why, but hearing old men talk about life and philosophy was such a joy to me. Maybe, because of the fact that my father had passed away when I was three, I saw in these conversations what I wished I had at home. I especially loved to see older men joke around with each other and the jokes that their wives never understood. I enjoyed their zeal for life, and their overly opinionated ferver for what they felt was right. I marveled at what things could be gleaned from the age group of 40 and above. My favorites were those old me that were the modest and reserved types. Yet, I also liked the talkative and joking type of old men that would come up with wacky nick names for us kids. I remember how even with how close the neighborhood was there were at least 2 families that did not have their stuff together, but you dealt with them on their terms and life went on.

Love Lost

I loved that neighborhood so much, and cherished every memory so much that when my mother told me we were moving I felt my heart shatter into 1 million peices. I hated the idea of leaving so badly that I even tried to sabatoge the move. We moved into a neighborhood that had nothing that I could relate to. No community, no friends of value, no childhood games, no barbecues, and no old men to listen to. For a time I let myself slip into the wrong crowd because there was nothing else, and I nearly fell completely away from my family logic. I secretly planned for years after we moved to somehow move back to 73rd and Norton and regain what I had lost. If not 73rd and Norton there had to be some place like it that met the exact same criteria.

I was fanatic in this and when my got my driver's license the first thing I did was to drive to 73rd and Norton to try and find a peice of myself that was missing. Yet, when I got there what I found was that the neighborhood I grew up in was no longer there. The place had become run down, and destitute. The house we once lived in was in ruins, and there were no longer any old men to listen to. I felt so devasted that the only reality I knew was no longer in existance. I felt for many years after this that I had to find this sense I had on 73rd and Norton again. Every place I ever traveled to after that time never met all criteria and there were no old men to learn from and listen to.


In college I worked in a lab with a math professor and a former commander in the Navy, and their conversations reminded me of my childhood. They were Dr. Freddie Frazier and Commander Kelley. Throughout the course of my working in that lab I enjoyed hearing the conversations between Dr. Frazier and Commander Kelley and I was reminded so much of the past. Yet, one summer, the conversation stopped when Commander Kelley died of a heart attack while he was cutting his grass. When Commander Kelley passed away things just weren't the same, and he and Dr. Frazier were such good friends and seeing that empty place where Commander Kelley used to sit was hard since I began to realize that I was living in a country without old men. I remember how about a week or so before Commander Kelley passed away he gave his 10 year predictions of where he believed that all of the students who worked in the lab would be. I remember his prediciation for me that I would be completely dedicated to my work. At the time I felt it to be kind of an empty predication since I wanted more from life, even thought I knew on some level he was correct. After that point I never found that kind of feeling again, and maybe this was why for many years I was lost.

A Country For Old Men

That was until I moved to Israel and I found a country of old men. At every turn here I find myself reminded of my life on 73rd and Norton. I find myself hearing, either on the bus, or sitting in the resturants that I am surrounded by the type of conversations that I remember as a kid. I love the things I hear old men talking about here, and it brings such joy to my heart when I encounter the conversations of old men.

Just last night I was waiting at the bus stop near a military base close to Latrun to return home to Jerusalem. There was an older man maybe in his 50's at the stop and he asked me a few questions about the bus that he had been waiting on. He said he had been waiting for an hour and it was already dark. At that moment another older man, also in his 50's, and immediately these old friends began to talk and laugh together. The second old man said he was headed to Jerusalem and he could give his friend a ride. He looked in my direction and asked his friend if there was anyone else that he knew at the stop. He looked at me with an expectation of Why are you not asking me for a ride young man? I asked him, if I could get a ride to Jerusalem and he said, What are you talking about I was waiting for you to hurry up and come along with us. Come on young man the car doesn't mind. Get in.

I made a few of my own jokes on the way back to the car, and they laughed. On the way from Latrun to Jerusalem I listened to them talk and a smile came across my face. The conversations they had reminded me so much of my childhood on 73rd and Norton. How they spoke reminded me of exactly how the old men in my past spoke, with such passion and 100% clarity and confidence in what they spoke about. They talked about a wedding of a young man and woman that they both attended. They spoke about how good the young couple was and how beautiful the wedding was, and how it was such a blessing for two such young people to get married and building a life together. They spoke in detail on how the wedding brought such joy to their hearts. They later spoke about how it is a mistake in Israel that Arabic is no longer a part of the formal education in the schools. They both were fluent in Arabic, being that they were Moroccan Jews and I caught a few phrases in Arabic here and there.

The driver dropped me off in Givat Shaul near the Jerusalem bus station. I made them laugh a bit with some of my wit before I jumped out and I wished them a Shabbat Shalom (good Sabbath). Then they sped off on their way into the Jerusalem night. I just remembered that just the other day I was at a hardware store and the owner struck up a conversation with me. He enjoyed me so much he invited me to come to his some at any time and we could have coffee together.

This is my experience in the Middle East and it is why I say that I am home, and I would never return to live in America or anywhere outside of Israel. Though 73rd and Norton faded away, the concept is still etched into my heart, and one day in the future I will be one of those old men in my country telling my own stories of my passion for life. Yet, maybe that is exactly where I am right now thus this blog and everything that comes from it.

This is my life and I love it so much for these are the Chronicles of Ehav Ever.


Ahoovah said...

Thanks for posting this video of Joe Amar ZT'L, a precious voice from a past memory
He died 2 month ago

Anonymous said...


I miss Commander Kelly very much. I miss his wisdom and humour. And I loved how he a Doc interacted. You are right they had great conversations and they knew what they had experienced in life and spoke with such confidence. I think of Commander often and each time with great fondness. Be well and thanks for posting such a wonderful blog.

All the best.

Ehav Ever said...

Ahoovah - Yes, Jo Amar was a really special singer. His voice was amazing and the passion with which he sang songs was incrediable. They just don't make that mold as much anymore.

Farabanta - Yes, I miss Commander Kelley. He and Doc were such a great team. I always loved to them seem them leaving together. Even though they were driving in different cars they would follow each other back to Houston.