It’s very early spring as I write this. I’m sitting on our front yard’s bench, made entirely of recycled milk cartons, to write this final column on Brookhaven’s last five decades of the 20th century.
Margie’s planting some new flowers as the old foliage begins to spread over the tree and gardens. The calls of cardinals, robins and mockingbirds ring through the trees. Fox, deer and raccoon have rejoined opossum, squirrel and beaver in their age-old dance through the forests and creeks. Coyote and Canada goose explore and settle their new country. The economy’s improving. Looks like things are starting to get better all around; the valley is moving toward the mountain once again.
The spring of 1990 was a different story. The deepest, darkest valley in our lives was yawning before us. My career was gone. Margie’s full-time salary became our family’s mainstay. My income was supplementing hers for the first time.
There was “work” everywhere: Networking through employment agencies and friends led to jobs in collections, telemarketing, warehousing, retail. I worked full time during the day, part time on nights and weekends. The kids both got part-time jobs after school. I gradually overcame the crippling depression that kept me sitting and staring for hours at a time.
The temporary jobs began to be “temp to perm” jobs. By 1997 I’d landed work with a major phone company that provided the needed income. Margie continued to work at the same company. The empty storefronts in the Brookhaven area began to refill. We could do more for entertainment than just drive through beautiful neighborhoods.
We find that a lot of frivolous nonsense had been knocked out of us. We save, invest, cut back, find ourselves enveloped with a closeness that continues to this day. I’m able to activate my network in 20 minutes, landing on my working feet every time. We learn to appreciate the decent people — and their businesses — and to neutralize the others. We regard ourselves as independent contractors instead of employees, to the detriment of those companies that used to tell us, “Work hard, obey orders, and we’ll take of you.”
Our newfound skills would be put to use with my sister and mother. My sister, suffering from schizophrenia since high school, died of cancer at my mother’s home April 4, 1994, Easter Monday. My mother followed suit Oct. 21, 1999 — months after I broke down her double-locked door, found where she’d fallen and called for help.
Their passing left us with an unencumbered inheritance that was combined with the family’s existing investments. Our financial present and future continued to improve. The area’s infrastructure was showing some wear, the age of the cheaply built and overpriced “McMansions” was coming, but the future now inspired more curiosity than fear. “Vamos a ver lo que la futura nos trae — let’s see what the future brings us.”
Now we no longer had to travel to see the world; the world was coming to us! My high school Spanish, college French and military Vietnamese were all needed as swarms of immigrants began to supplement then redefine our Brookhaven culture. Our children were beginning their own families, incredibly going back to Brookhaven’s earliest days as they added Cherokee, Creek and even Navajo branches to our European family tree. We’d gone from raising kids to borrowing grandkids, with all the fun and freedom that lifestyle entails. Who’d have thought I’d study Cherokee to give those grandchildren back part of their heritage?
We’re back from dinner. I’m back on the bench. The constellations can hardly be seen anymore, so bright is the light pollution from the surrounding cityscape. But the planet Venus will still emerge clearly from the western horizon, a reminder that some things are almost eternal.
As I wait for the stars, the day grows colder, the light dims, then words and pictures drop on my memory like the weeping cherry blossoms drifting on the street. “Good enough” really is good enough. Principles and people count the most .One last fleeting wisp crosses my mind as the sun disappears. A long-ago forest trail disappears under my feet. Puzzled, I move on, then suddenly the trail is under my feet again. Had I not kept moving, I would never have known. We all need a past, a present and a future.
We are biologically brothers to one another, chemically cousins to the planets, atomically children of the stars. We have a right to be here. We all need a past, a present and a future. “Vamos a ver lo que la futura nos trae.” Yeah, right.
Tom Reilly is a 50-plus-year resident of Brookhaven and a member of the Ashford Alliance Community Association board of directors.