Darkness washed over me as I pointed my Charger south on U.S. Highway 169 toward Winterset. I forgot how dark it gets in the country, away from the constant glow of the city. Even a small city like Des Moines never goes completely dark. Orange hues from streetlights radiate into the night sky creating an artificial light in the night.
But in the country, dark mode engages fully, especially on a cloudy night, which it was a few days after Christmas. The darkness made me uneasy. My headlights feel perfunctory in the city, but in the blackness along the curves and hills of Hwy. 169, they became lanterns of protection — alerting me to any bold deer out for a nocturnal gallop across the road between the farm fields on either side of the road.
I was going to Winterset, where I did most of my growing up as a boy, to see my friend Lewis, who lives there with his wife and three children after many years adventuring in the Army and an attempt at suburban life in the city. Hometowns have a magnetic affect on people. His mom lives there, as does his brother. Sometimes even I feel the pull to move back to Winterset, to try and get a job editing the local weekly.
Lew and I drank White Russians and watch the Iowa Hawkeyes pound USC on his basement projection TV. His daughter was off spending the night with a friend. His two sons winnowed away the night playing video games in their rooms. His wife and mom folded laundry upstairs and watched the game.
I felt a warmth and relaxation that I seldom feel. Lew and I go way back. His late father was my late father’s lawyer. They were good men and good friends. Big Lew knew all the family secrets and kept them well. Lew knows them, too, and because of that, I think understands my peculiar nature more than most of my friends.
We both expressed a year-end melancholy. His wife lost her grandpa and they were headed to her hometown to mourn the next day. We both missed our fathers, mine gone more than 30 years, his just a few years back. Another classmate’s dad was struggling with a brain tumor. Other people we grew up with lost parents in recent years.
We’re getting to be that age — 45 in 2020 — where people lose their parents. Even my beloved Parents 2.0, who raised me after my first set of parents died, are 70. They’re healthy, but it sneaks into my thinking that they are both the same age as my Finney parents when they died. By the time I was as old as Lews oldest son, I’d already lost my first set of parents. I don’t worry about it. It’s just a passing thought.
It’s funny. I spend a lot of time making sense of the past, but I have seldom been good at looking toward the future. Even at New Year’s, when almost everyone makes resolutions and revels in renewal, I think more about what has gone by than what is to come. This is just how I am.
Yet, as 2019 ended and 2020 began, I found myself disinterested in recalling the highs and lows of the previous year or previous decade as all the news and sports shows dragging out clips from the last 10 years to ping nostalgia in viewers, readers and web surfers.
I find such reviews unproductive and too often an invitation to ruminate on sad times rather that relive happy moments. Lew is great at remember the good times. It’s why I enjoy the rare times we can hang out. He’s a busy man: work, wife, three kids, constant home remodeling and so on.
I hear pieces of the refrain from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “So This Is Christmas” on repeat in my head: “Another year over, a new one just begun … let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”
So, no, I’m not announcing any great plans for the New Year. All the old goals remain in place. If anything, I suppose, I should reserve more time for moments like the one shared with my old friend Lew a few days after Christmas. Some laughs. Some talk. A few drinks. Some snacks. Low key. Easy
My favorite day of any year is Dec. 21, the winter solstice. It’s roughly the longest night of the year, the fewest daylight hours. I like it because winter is a bummer. It’s dark and cold. It affects moods. But every year on Dec. 22, we reach a point where the light hangs around longer.
It’s only seconds at first, but slowly the earth rotates and day by day, the light stays longer, the sun warms us and we find our way out of the dark.
My resolution, if you want to call it that, is simply to keep working my way out of the dark.
With love and hope, dpf