One hundred years ago tonight, King Pattengale sat down at his makeshift desk and by coach lamp penned a penny postcard to his six-year-old son, Carl.
Carl had a collection of these postcards from his daddy, who worked on the railroad and had to be away from home more than Carl liked. He kept them in a wooden box, tied together with a piece of twine, and took them out whenever he missed his pa. But the one that was written on this date was his favorite for his whole life long.
“Do you see the date on this card?” read the cursive script. “11/11/11. Carl, that date won’t happen again for one hundred years! Imagine that…”
Carl did imagine. And he showed me the postcard only once, more than forty years ago. He was no young man by then, and his father, of course, was long dead. He read the card aloud to me and his eyes twinkled like they must have when he was a lad, mesmerized again by the magical thought of the one hundred years—slow moving in his youth but speeding by in old age—between 1911 and 2011.
“I won’t be alive when that date comes around the next time,” he said. “But you will.”
Years still moved slowly for me back then, but now I know, from personal experience, that it couldn’t have been true for him. What seemed like an eternity to me seemed to him like nothing more than the blink of an eye—and yet he knew he wouldn’t see the day that was so quickly approaching.
So I smiled an I-believe-in-magic smile and took the postcard from his open hand. I held it to my face and inhaled the lingering fragrance of the sleeper train and the rail yard and even, I think, my great-grandfather himself. And the scent of the little boy who became the man sitting next to me, my grandfather.
And I promised myself right then that on some distant 11/11/11 that I couldn’t imagine ever actually arriving, I would gather my grandfather’s people around me and celebrate his good life, his kind love, and the magic of passing it on.
I still have his postcard. Now that the long-imagined day has arrived, I will sit down and pen cards, perhaps to my own sweet grandchildren. I’ll tell them this date won’t come again for a hundred years, but I won’t have to tell them to believe in magic.
They’ll see it twinkling in my eyes.
Posted by Katy on 11/11/11 at 10:05 AMFallible Comments...
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