Recollecting the ‘Permanent Things’ in My Back Pages

On Thursday nights, my neighborhood puts out our refuse for the next day’s collection. Some nights, especially in the summer, when walking or cycling I happen upon one man’s trash and reclaim it as treasure. Not long ago, passing a house with a “for sale” sign, I happened upon a young couple whose car was idling as they perused a large cache of boxes on the curb. I pulled my bike alongside them and asked what they were unearthing. “Books,” they replied. An admitted bibliophile, I quickly joined them in rummaging through the boxes.

Most of the books were outdated encyclopedias, textbooks, and former best-selling paperbacks of sundry genres. While they didn’t find much to interest them, I found a few. One in particular struck me: A 1980 Livonia junior high school yearbook. The school was Dickinson Junior High School and 1980 was the last year it was open to junior high students. It was also the year that, had I not been attending Detroit Catholic Central High School, I would have been attending Livonia’s neighboring Frost Junior High. So the yearbook’s former owner was my age. 

Back home looking through the yearbook, I saw a few people I recalled from my youth who went to Dickinson, though we were not close. Leafing further through the pages, I could see the owner’s generic Christian name (for our purposes I’ll call him “Mark”) in the yearbook’s handwritten notes tendered to him from a favorite teacher and his friends. Recognizing the improbability of finding his surname, and further intuiting that I was interloping on Mark’s memories, I stopped reading and placed the book down.

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how the yearbook wound up in the boxes by the curb. Was Mark deceased? Sadder yet, was it possible Mark had passed years ago and his parents, who had kept it to remember him, also now had departed this veil of tears? Did disinterested relatives or an estate sale company designate the items for the landfill? Or did Mark himself just decide it was time to let go of the past and move on?

Unable to find a happy solution to the mystery, my mind diverted itself with nostalgia—a not uncommon practice for a person like myself who is aging gracelessly, and one which recent events have pleasantly abetted.

Not long ago, there was an informal gathering of my Lincoln Elementary 6th grade graduating class. It was a delightful summer evening, one rife with curiosity and the camaraderie of a shared youth. On my part, I immediately issued a blanket apology to one and all for being such a horrible kid. The apology was accepted, and others were similarly issued. Nonetheless, the night was untinged by regret, for at that age we didn’t know what we wanted from the world, let alone what the world would want from us, which explains why we were so eager to grow up—or at least get on to the aforementioned Frost Junior High, which I did for two hell-raising years. (If there is ever a Frost Junior High reunion, and if I should attend—and that is a hard if—I will have to provide an apology and an act of penance. I wonder if Mike Pence has a hair shirt he can lend me?) 

Perhaps it was the alienation of the interminable lockdowns, or just the penchant of those in middle age to wax nostalgic or both; in any event during the pandemic, my CC ’83 graduating class began holding social media meet ups to reconnect, largely due to health concerns regarding some of our former classmates. (Thankfully, Ed and Paul are doing well; but sadly, Pete has passed, God rest his gentle soul.) Once the pandemic abated, we had the opportunity to actually reunite, reminisce, and generally realize how lucky we were to be alive, if aging, and a bit wiser (okay, a bit cagier, anyway) than back when we were crossing over to Canada to—never mind.

I felt a creeping feeling of calm amidst the tempest of time. Sometimes familiarity breeds not contempt but comfort, especially when one accepts the eternal verity: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” They are the embodiments of the “permanent things”—the eternal virtues, such as truth, loyalty, and friendship, that are the foundations of faith, family, community, and country. I realized, then, that no matter where I’ve been or where I’ll go, along with my family and a handful of other dear friends I’ve met and kept along the way, I know my CC ’83 brethren are the ageless boys who will be there to mourn and bury me. I thank them kindly; and may God bless them for that tender mercy. 

“Live and die for CC High!”

I pondered Mark, again. I wondered if Mark had the chance to reconnect with the people from his past? Did he even want to? Did God give him the chance or did He have other plans for Mark? Then I stared at his yearbook. Someone—perhaps Mark, perhaps not—had already made the decision; and I had no right to contravene it. I put the yearbook in my recycle bin; crossed myself and said a prayer that, wherever he may be, Mark, too, has found the permanent things.

About Thaddeus G. McCotter

An American Greatness contributor, the Hon. Thaddeus G. McCotter (M.C., Ret.) represented Michigan’s 11th Congressional district from 2003 to 2012 and served as Chair of the Republican House Policy Committee. Not a lobbyist, he is a frequent public speaker and moderator for public policy seminars, and a Monday co-host of the "John Batchelor Show" among sundry media appearances.

Photo: JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

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