Al Batt: Remembering the good old days and the good cough drops

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2023

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

A friend grumbled about his bother-in-law.

Al Batt

Did he misspeak or didn’t he care for the man?

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I attended a retirement party for a brother-in-law. He’s a great guy and I was happy when he’d found a job and now he’s retired.

I enjoyed some little smokies (cocktail sausages) with friends. Little smokies are the Cadillac of appetizers for those of us feeding below the caviar line. Old friends talked of the people we used to be and agreed that things aren’t like they used to be and they never were. There was a reasonable share of “remember the time” stories. Memories don’t always mesh properly. Certain individuals recalled the date of an incident and those involved. Some remembered only the incident. Others claimed to have no memory of any incident. The latter people are known as the guilty parties. I’m competent at remembering things happening, but not good at remembering when they happened. Did it happen 20 years ago or 15 years ago? Yesterday’s breakfast can seem longer than 10 years ago. My particular affliction is thinking things happened a much shorter time ago than they did. As afflictions go, it’s a minor one.

I learned in a classroom that the five W’s of journalism are: who, what, where, when and why. They’re the key questions that begin the process of piecing a story together. That class was sometime between a long time ago and a little while ago. How long is a little while ago? How long is a long time ago? I don’t know.

A week before my brother-in-law’s bash, I had a raspy voice and sounded like a bad country singer. Too much talking, I reckon. I care little for cough drops, but I decided to employ one. I wondered when was the last time I’d had a Smith Brothers Cough Drop. Film directors used to employ a slow dissolve, the use of wavy lines or the blurred edges of a frame to separate a flashback from reality. I used pretend wavy lines while trying to remember when I’d last had a Smith Brothers Cough Drop. The Smith Brothers sold their cough drops in small white boxes, featuring a government trademark and pictures of the brothers right above the words “trade” (William’s image) and “mark” (Andrew’s image). I preferred thinking of the two men as Trade and Mark. Trade and Mark (or William and Andrew) were bearded. I’d heard the generation before me say, “When the Smith Brothers shave…” to indicate something unlikely to happen as in, “I’ll do that when the Smith Brothers shave.” I hoped a cough drop might provide relief, but found no Smith Brothers Cough Drops in black, menthol or wild cherry flavors. I obtained a brand of upscale individually wrapped cough drops. On the wrapper of the first lozenge it read, “Don’t give up on you,” “Conquer today” and “Let’s hear your battle cry.” A motivational cough drop.

We’ve all been accused of having selective hearing. If you don’t think you have been, it’s because you weren’t listening. We can have selective memories too. I’m an enthusiastic rememberer and find support in written notes. I’m a chronic note-taker. It keeps me from misremembering. When the Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Roger Clemens testified before a House committee as part of an investigation into the use of steroids in MLB, Clemens said another had “misremembered” a conversation.

I stopped at Fuel’s Paradise gas station (Motto: “The more gas in your tank, the less empty it is”) on April Fuel’s Day and filled my car with gas in order to double its value. A fellow fueler sighed loudly and said wistfully, “I remember when gas was 30 cents a gallon.” I asked him when that had been. He said in 1964 when he graduated from high school. “It’s good to remember the good old days,” he concluded our conversation.

I remember the good old days.

I spent one at my brother-in-law’s retirement party trying to remember when another good old day had happened.

William Goldman said, “True love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops.”

I say, “Pleasant memories are better than a photographic memory.”

I’ve made that my battle cry.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.