Montaigne writes that “we drag everything along with us,”* the dead most of all, I think.
In the course of a week my father, gone since ‘04, came back twice. He accompanied my brother in a dream; my brother asked if I was doing alright; was I well? My father sat near him, eating, silent, white-haired, dressed in a red pullover he wore to play golf.
Then this — the yellowed square of 76 year old newsprint drifted from a folder that had been stuck to the bottom of a filing cabinet drawer. On July 20 in 1939 two unnamed young men scattered four pounds of tacks over Route 443 in the outlands of Lebanon County: “The tires of numerous automobiles were punctured, many of the machines sustaining two flat tires at a time.” When my father arrested them, they said they had “planted the tacks … just for dumbness.”
He was a 25 year old Trooper months out of the Academy, a West Philly boy patrolling the pre-Turnpike, pre-Interstate, empty two lane roads in the deep country of old, rural America.
In one week, in expressive, resonant visitations, my father in his uniform in burning July heat three quarters of a century ago, and again, clear-eyed and watchful, a figure in a dream.
We want to make such coincidences into something more — the signs of emissaries, their muted code from an unearthly region.
These are subversive calls of memory and chance. They cut off, carry on, come forth like the far-off sound of a striking bell carried by the wind, a rhythm that drifts into and out of our hearing, there suddenly, a jolt to our feelings, then gone, off to the West, into years long gone and of no interest to the whole world except to us, the only ones fully alert in that wind and suddenly thrown open to visions positioned well beyond our ability to choose.
*from “Of Judging of the Death of Others”. The Complete Essays of Montaigne. Translated by Donald Frame.
The reporter got the Route Number wrong. Not 433, but 443.