I guess I'm feeling nostalgic tonight, but in a very strange way. I'm feeling nostalgic for my teenage years, particularly those foolish weekend activities. Maybe it's because I chaperoned a high dance last night. That is probably part of it.
But the other part has nothing to do with being a teenager. It has everything to do with Christmas. Tonight, in a mad rush to get our house decorated before an influx of out of town visitors and a more immediate deadline of Luminaria ( if you aren't in the know, it means that your entire neighborhood puts candles inside of white paper bags and sets them out along the curb of each property, creating an oddly-beautiful, unified Christmas look for you and your neighbors), I did some outdoor decorating, in the dark decorating.
We have a Dogwood in our front yard to the left side of the house with an interesting array of branches, and I tried to give some of it definition, using strands of white lights. Compared to the decorated streets around us, it is abstract art, or at least Impressionism, with on.y the blurred outlines of reality.
To accomplish this meant running an extension cord from the back of the house, lugging all of the carefully-boxed white lights from Christmases past (we've gone retro colored lights on the tree this year), and dragging a ladder from inside the house out for the higher branches.
At the start time of the project, it was fully dark and 36 degrees. And, for whatever reason, I brought a beer with me to assist me in my labors. That beer, a Yeungling Light in a can became, for me, like the Madeleine cookie in Proust's Remembrances Of Things Past. From the first sip, it took me back to those teenaged years.
In case you've forgotten, when you drank beer as a teenager, there was a pretty good chance you were drinking it outside in ridiculously cold weather, weather where the temperature outside was colder than the beer itself.
Let's see: maybe (to draw from my own misspent times) you were drinking in the woods a case of Schlitz that your friends had stolen off of a beer truck. Maybe you were drinking up at a picnic table in the local park named for the lone boy in your wealthy suburb who was killed in Vietnam. Maybe you were drinking in a cold car at the fringe of a new subdivision before a party you were going to. Maybe you were chugging beers on a side street before getting on a trolley to go downtown to a concert.
In each case, if you grew up in the North like me, you were outside and it was cold and you were cold and the beer was cold, and the way that cold beer hit your cold lips and the back of your frosted throat is a feeling you haven't experienced since, because who would drink a beer that way as a sane adult?
But tonight, well, as I paused in my work, underdressed for the cold, I inadvertently captured that same taste and feeling. And when that happens, all of the years fall away, and all of a sudden, I am in a car with a girl, not drinking, but talking tentatively, kissing tentatively, trying to figure everything out tentatively in either small sips or huge chugs of being a teenager.
An adult lives his or her waking hours where it makes sense; a teenager lives wherever is available at any given time, and that beer, that icy beer made icier, serves as a reminder that woods and cars and dark streets and parking lots and parks and other places where others have either vacated or wouldn't think to go, those are the places where the teenage life is lived, especially when it is dark, especially when it is cold, especially when you are doing things that are rehearsals of these tamer adult years.
One small sip of cheap beer is all it takes, and 40 years fall away. The promise of that young time does not, unfortunately, come back as easily.