Chuck's World | Chasing Chevy and other July memories
Last updated 7/24/2020 at 10:40am
The calendars are just mocking me now. And they’re everywhere.
My computer monitor. My phone, my tablet, my fitness tracker, my car. My microwave. Every appliance in my home, in fact, seems to know what day it is, and they insist on telling me.
It wasn’t always this way. There were periods when time slipped away, when I only had a vague idea of the date and no relentless reminders of how I’ve lost another day that I’m definitely not getting back.
And now it’s my favorite time of year. Late July sustains me in January, knowing that summer in these parts shows up around the same time as my birthday and wedding anniversary.
Mowing my lawn becomes less urgent, shorts get dragged out of the closet, and memories get buffed a bit and brought out for display.
It all started in July, we say. It’s a happy month. It’s still happy, if subdued this year.
Summer has reopened in the Pacific Northwest, and the sun still shines.
Even if we’re not marking our big moments by eating in crowded restaurants or watching movies in an air-conditioned theater, the calendar continues to remind me. And I have last summer, anyway.
My wife and I headed out in late July and didn’t come back, not really, until mid-September. We spent time with old friends and family, and two weeks climbing over castles and cathedrals in Scotland. It was a summer for the books, and we can’t really complain if this one pales in comparison. It was always going to pale, pandemic aside.
This week, though, is a special memory. Last year at this time, my wife and I headed to northern Arizona to relive our origin story. We returned to the place we met, and to the people who were there at the beginning.
The timing was excellent, in retrospect. It took over a year to organize this reunion of college friends and coworkers from the early 1980s, and had we bumped it to this summer and had to cancel because of COVID-19, I think the disappointment would have been too much to bear.
Understanding that we dodged a viral bullet doesn’t make the memory any sweeter, but only because it couldn’t get better than it was.
It’s awkward to suggest that you do what we did, given that it was then and this is now. I can’t really recommend making long-term plans, much less getting on airplanes and hanging out in close quarters with 15 other people. I don’t know when we’ll be able to do that again, and sharing my glorious July just feels mean.
But it wasn’t hard, and that’s the take-away I’ll pass along. We were all young and finishing up college back then, and we should have scattered ourselves and lost touch. We did, too, but then social media came along.
Two years ago, visiting my mother in Arizona, I took a spontaneous road trip up north to visit my old stomping grounds (I don’t remember any stomping; there was a little dancing). It was a dinner theater just along the interstate, a convenient tourist destination on the way to and from the Grand Canyon. I worked there for two years, and one day I looked up as a pretty woman walked through the door, that’s all.
This is where our stories come from, discrete moments that, with a little luck and the persistence of vision, make up the lives we eventually lead. I married her the next summer, and the people around us then have lingered in our hearts, echoes of youth and young love.
I stuck my head in the door and looked around, swimming in nostalgia. I spoke a little with the college kids manning the front desk, desperate for relevance, trying to interest them in wild tales from the Reagan years. They smiled politely as I told them all about that night in 1982 when Chevy Chase showed up to have dinner, and I pointed out the table he sat at and told them how I raced around the place, trying to catch glimpses of a famous person.
And then I asked them if they knew who Chevy Chase was, and they didn’t, and that’s when I decided I needed to find some people my own age.
We set it up on Facebook, pushing it ahead a year so we could make arrangements, busy people and lives, spread out over the country.
As I said, technology made the whole thing easy, a nice perk of managing to stay alive. Most of us hadn’t seen each other for over 35 years, although we’d been sharing photos online for a while and there were no surprises.
These are my favorite videos from that weekend, in fact, the mini-reunions in our rented house in Flagstaff as we greeted each other with laughter and long hugs.
It’s the laughter I recall the most. It made me think of the famous quote from columnist Mary McGrory. After the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy, McGrory said to Patrick Moynihan, “We’ll never laugh again.”
To which Moynihan replied, “Mary, we’ll laugh again. We’ll just never be young again.” But we were, for a moment, or at least we pretended. And I think we all learned a lesson, which is that sometimes you just want to go where everybody knows your name.
It doesn’t hurt if they remember Chevy Chase, too.