Family Histories

Here is what I wonder: How many people remember historical cusps after the last survivors pass away? 69 years ago today, the United States was forced into the Pacific Theatre by a dawn bombing raid on the Hawaiian islands, a territory the United States was occupying, but hadn’t yet deigned to make a state. I have an odd memory when it comes to things like dates and despite being very much not alive on Pearl Harbour Day, I always remember the date, but I often feel like I am clinging to something that’s done and over with, perhaps on behalf of the people who are not around to remember it themselves anymore.

Already, it seems like 11 September, one of the most formative moments of my life, is fading away in memory. I see events planned on that date and it brings me up short but no one else seems to think it is odd, after all, it’s just another day in the calendar and that makes it fair game for scheduling. In 20 years, I suspect it will be a day like any other, just like seven December is for most people now. Maybe in 40 years someone will be interviewing me about what happened on that Tuesday in September in order to preserve living history before it’s too late and my generation is gone and the memories are lost forever, you know?

Just as countless other days have been hugely significant events for their own generations, and have been quietly forgotten over time, so we forget dates from 20, 40, 60, 100 years ago. It starts with memorials and honours on the anniversary, slowly fading into events only attended by old timers and puzzled over by everyone else, eventually disappearing altogether as people forget the significance of 14 October or 12 April, even though those dates had a huge and ominous significance to an entire generation of people, entire worlds were shaped by what happened on those days in history and those events reverberate through to today.

The calendar, if we truly celebrated every critical historical event, would be filled with multiple commemorations every day and maybe that’s the secret, to save ourselves from commemoration overload, we quietly retire the significance of given dates over time to make way for new ones. Thus it is that today’s date matters to an increasingly slim number of people, has a meaning beyond a number on a calendar, a due date on a bill, for relatively few individuals.

Perhaps I am excessively nostalgic, but I find dates, days, particularly important and I like to keep track of important events, not just generally and in a historical fashion but also in a personal one, and seven December is important to me both historically and personally. It is the anniversary of Pearl Harbour, a date that looms large in my consciousness.

It’s also the date of my father’s traditional biannual hair cut, inherited from my grandfather, and perhaps some day I shall take it on as well, if I decide to take up cutting my hair on a regular basis. From my very young childhood, I can remember my father glancing at the calendar on seven December and ‘just happening’ to decide that today is the day for a haircut, checking the length in the mirror and fondling the loose hairs in the back, fooling no one with this supposedly spontaneous decision to get his hair trimmed.

My father used to go to the barbershop on Redwood Avenue, a small one room shop with low ceilings and, of course, the traditional barber pole outside.

Barber Shop: The interior of the old barbershop.

I took this picture recently, all that remains of the barbershop. It had closed long before then because they vacated the building well in advance of the final demolition of the structure next door, and I wondered where my father would end up on seven December next, because, like me, he is very set in his ways and the carefully calculated ‘casual’ decisionmaking runs in the family.

To plan ahead by researching another place to cut your hair would be cheating, just as making an appointment would be heresy; that would give away the game, reveal the amount of forethought involved, just as, someday, I too will get my hair cut on seven December and I will always insist on a walk in appointment, as I will just casually happen by the salon and decide my ends look a little ragged and could benefit from a trim.

Not knowing my grandfather well, I’m not sure if he was the progenitor of this particular Smith family trait, or if it’s something that arose spontaneously in my father and was passed on to me. I should ask my father, someday, but that would deconstruct the house of cards, to openly admit that every move my father and I make is deliberate and carefully orchestrated, from the breezy dropping in that has actually been meticulously crafted for three days to the ‘just throwing a few things together’ dinner we have, of course, planned out thoroughly in advance and shopped for at least two days previously.

This date has significance to me precisely because it is not supposed to have significance; it is a date in the calendar like any other, but it comes with a stacked and loaded history, something not openly admitted that makes this day ring in my head like a clarion even though we always pretend it’s a day, just like any other.

Who knows. Maybe I’ll take a trip to town later and see if Denise has room on her schedule for a quick trim.