Twice in my life I almost made a decision that may have saved me from the perils of the one I must face now. That is the peril of having things.
While at a Roman Catholic boarding school in Austin we were often asked if we felt we had a vocation. This was Catholic school recruiting talk to lure us into becoming a Brother or Priest of Holy Cross. I must admit that for just a few seconds, every now and then I thought about it. I was attracted to the concept of simplicity and not owning too many possessions. I had seen how a few brothers had been summoned and told they were being sent to a mission in Africa or Brazil. I had seen how easy it had been. They might have sent a few letters to their relatives, then packed a suitcase with a few black socks, black slacks, a couple of black brother vestments, a few white shirts, a sweater and a bible. And that was that. Then I would look at my Pentacon-F with its 50mm lens and I knew I wanted an 80mm portrait lens. I also wanted a pair of black cordovan Bostonian loafers and… the list got bigger.
A few years later ( I was 22) I was on the deck of the Argentine Merchant Marine ship Rio Aguapey (I was the only passenger on a free ticket back home to Veracruz after two years as an Argentine Navy conscript). We were in the port of Santos in Brazil. The deck was infested with insects and the docks looked filthy. As we shoved off the insects disappeared and I was on board a clean ship, the smell of paint was comforting, with no earthly obligations or commitments. For a few days the idea of joining the Merchant Marine became attractive. Those people on the dock in Santos had no choice but to stay and live there. Here on board I would be free of it all. But after talking to my friends, the young officers, it became obvious that they had poor family lives and a terrible prospect of ever having a wife that they would be loyal to. Still the compactness and the fact that my cabin had only my necessities (including a book on the philosophy of Spengler) and nothing more persisted in being attractive to me.
Now in February 2015 the end looms much nearer than on that deck at Santos. I have asked my eldest daughter Ale in Lillooet to make a trip, early spring so that she and her sister Hilary can look around the house and make a list of what they might want to inherit.
Rosemary has found our will and we will make a new one. I will write little essays explaining the framed photographs on our walls and paste them behind.
Both my daughters were born in Mexico but as strange as it may seem the oldest, Ale feels Mexican while the younger feels Argentine. This would help them decide who wants what.
Perhaps we will put our house on the market in the coming fall and move in spring. We will make sure that wherever we move our two cats can follow us.
It will be tough to get rid of so many books. One sad decision I thought I would have to make became less so. Rosemary asked me if we should heavily prune the trees on our garden to give my roses and her perennials more necessary light and sun. I answered that this was not necessary. My beloved roses and I are on the same boat of decline. The ones that survive will go to gardens of friends. Those that don’t will remain in my memory until that memory goes.
Meanwhile I think of those pair of “what ifs” and wonder where I would be now. Would it be a mission in Africa or on the deck of a ship? I have a nagging suspicion that my third choice was the best.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.