Years ago, while catching up over dinner, a friend mentioned something she’d heard earlier that day.
Did I know, she asked, how long most people are remembered after they die?
I had to admit that I didn’t, nor had I ever given it much thought. I would guess I’m about as realistic about death as the average person—I know it will happen eventually—but I try not to think about it too much.
As it turned out, the answer figures out to be around three generations, or roughly 80 years.
Of course, if the mark you leave behind is significant enough—if you are Picasso or Jonas Salk or Christopher Columbus or David Bowie—you will be remembered for far longer, but even then people living just a handful of decades after you give up the ghost will really only remember what you did. They won’t remember you, not the personal stuff anyway. Not the way you dipped your French fries in ranch dressing or cried over Super Bowl commercials.
People are also reading…
Maybe that’s sad, or maybe that’s just life. It’s fleeting, as they say. This is not breaking news.
And yet my friend’s comment also reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in quite some time.
Tucked away in a box in a little-used room of my house, wedged in between some old college textbooks, is a thin volume with a bright green cover and a plastic binding. On the front are the words “The Rimrock,” and a subheading that reveals it was published by the Delta High School senior class in Delta, Colorado, in 1938. Inside are several dozen neatly formatted pages that look very much the same as the ones in yearbooks published today. There are class photos, senior superlatives, team pictures (the boys basketball team was apparently pretty good that year), and several snippets from the school newspaper, the Panther Pant.
I noticed the book decades ago in a junk shop, and scored it for the bargain price of 75 cents. Why? I have to admit I’m not exactly sure. No one in my family is from Colorado, and I’ve never even been there. So why do I have a book in which a bunch of students living there in 1938 listed their hopes for the future and smiled for photos they assumed they would show their children and grandchildren someday?
Maybe it’s because the reporter in me would love to know what happened to them, and how America’s entry into World War II—just a few short years away—would impact the course of their lives. Maybe I want to know how they would compare their own high school years to their children and grandchildren’s’ experiences.
Any remaining student would be over 100 by now and difficult to track down, but I’d love to know what they thought about the people they were back then, and what advice they would give their younger selves.
I suppose I could send the yearbook back to a local historical society in Delta, and perhaps they could get it in the right hands.
Maybe it will find its way to a grandchild or another relative, and maybe it will serve as a reminder that we should cherish every day and that life moves so very fast. One day you’re posing for your senior photo, poised to take on the world, and the next you are watching as the next generation takes the reigns.
In any event, I know I’ve enjoyed looking at it over the years and wondering about the wide-eyed young men and women gracing its yellowing pages.
It might not be the way they thought they would be remembered, but I suppose it still counts.