Now and Then

Donald Shephard

Now and then I think about a shoe box that contains the official record of my path from then to now. There is the birth certificate from the Parish of Chigwell in Essex, about twenty miles from Central London. The document is dated November 19th, 1940. Above the record of my birth is a ration book that shows what I ate for the first 13 years of my life. A report book from Buckhurst Hill County High School accompanies it with that dreadful word “potential” written throughout. A Bachelor of Science diploma from the University of Nottingham rests in dusty peace below a British passport. The passport is stamped in New York the day after Labor Day 1965 and in Yokohama in May, 1966. A 1967 marriage certificate from the City and County of San Francisco is buried beneath a divorce decree issued by San Joaquin County nine years later. Glowing between the papers marking the beginning and death of a marriage is the birth certificate of a son who arrived thirty years less one day after my own birth. A second marriage certificate, this one issued by San Joaquin County, is stamped “made in heaven.” It is the watershed of my life.

Other documents fill up the shoe box. There is a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from California State University at Stanislaus that caused me more grief than a wiser man would have allowed. The State of California has sent me a variety of papers telling one and all that I am qualified to be a County Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer of Weights and Measures. That struggle ended when I wrote a budget eliminating the position of Assistant Commissioner and Sealer of Stanislaus County, the position I held at the time. It was as if I had cut a limb from a tree and failed to notice that the trunk was on the other side of the saw from me.

No doubt in the Employment Development Department there is a cousin to my shoe box detailing the 15 months I spent under their tattered umbrella. Elsewhere in the state archives are records of my employment as a trainer for the California Environmental Protection Agency. Best of all, the Public Employees Retirement System has documentation dated November 19, 2003 marking my return to the freedoms of childhood albeit with some notable differences.

The penultimate document in the shoe box is a living trust which includes my will. Finally, there will be a death certificate. These are the records of my life from boy to man and back to boyishness.

I ran around Epping Forest when I was a boy. As I ran, I watched the seasons change. I admired the small fallow deer that foraged for beechnuts and seedlings. I observed the dominance of the introduced grey tree squirrel over its native red relative. I cycled beyond the forest to the rolling farmland where I was to toil during my school vacations for many years. They were hours of pleasure away from the turmoil of family life. Outside, there was an air of innocence about the peace that followed World War II. At home, the emotional scars of wartime were pervasive.

Now, rather than running, I walk like one of Tolkien’s tree creatures, the ents. The fervor of youth is replaced by the mellowness of age. Once again, I live close to nature, away from the myriad of pollutions in the city. The trees of Epping Forest absorbed sound to the extent that I could have listened to silence were it not for the rhythm of blood in my veins and air in my lungs. I am getting reacquainted, in an environment that is at once different and similar to the grand spaces of my childhood, with my old love, Mother Nature. She has taught me so much and yet there is much more to learn.

That boy, who ran so tirelessly over the grass and clay of his native Essex fields and woods, is within me now. The path between us is twisted making it difficult to see clearly. I am awed when I realize that the poor council house urchin sits at peace in his tower overlooking the Pacific watching a storm rage around him while he writes nonsense on his laptop, and tickles his wife’s mind just as joyously as she tickles his. The dreams of my youth, which were frustrated in my early adult years, have been fulfilled tenfold because I married Colleen. Seeing her dream to retire to the beauty of Mendocino come to fruition, has cast sunshine into the shoebox of my life where our marriage certificate reigns supreme.

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