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KGB Wayback Journal #1 - Preface
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Published Thursday, November 09, 2023 @ 11:28 PM EST
Nov 09 2023

“Your life story would not make a good book. Don't even try.”
-Fran Lebowitz

I view autobiographies and memoirs to be mostly exercises in vainglorious excess. There are some people I admire and am indeed grateful they've taken the time and effort to chronicle their lives. I do not consider myself to be a member of that select category.

That said, I made a promise to my late grandmother that I would write a book about myself that would include a synopsis of her early life. Her request may seem odd, especially since I was only thirteen at the time she made it.

And the idea was prompted at the recommendation of a fortune teller.

Grandma occasionally invited a number of mildly irrational ladies to our apartment for coffee and snacks, and each attendee would also get a ten minute session with an odd woman who foretold future events via cartomancy: removing cards at random from a standard deck, and assigning significance to them based on the order in which they were chosen.

Even as a teenager I put no faith in prophets who used public transportation and chain-smoked unfiltered Pall Malls. I still don't. But I overheard my grandmother's guests praising the oracular card shuffler's previous prognostications. Grandma herself swore a prediction from her last party, made by the lady with the blue hair and pack of well-worn Bicycle brand cards, had accurately foretold an event of such personal significance that she could not reveal it to me.

While the ladies filed into and out of the front bedroom, I had to deliver the day's Daily Messengers and Pittsburgh Presses to the 50 or so houses on my newspaper route. It took about an hour, and when I returned, the apartment was empty, except for my grandmother. She sat at her favorite station, her bedroom window, so she could watch life transpire on Ann Street. When she noticed me, she motioned to me to join her.

“Mildred (the fortune teller) told me something you should know,” she confided conspiratorially.

“Gram,” I protested, “that's crazy. You know I don't believe in that stuff.”

She nodded her head, glowered over her wire frame bifocals, and wagged her index finger at me. “Listen, mister high honor roll. You may think you're smart, but you're not old enough to know everything. Now sit there and listen.”

Grandma rambled on for quite a while, but the gist of her monologue was this: Among other improbable events, I was going to become a published author when I grew up, and one of the things I would write would be a book detailing my life story, which would in part prominently feature my grandmother and tales of her hard scrabble youth cooking pies in a hotel in rural West Virginis. It was going to be a potentially lucrative venture, she hinted, and insisted I promise to carry through with Mildred's premonition.

“Okay, okay” I said, “I promise.” I gave her a kiss on the cheek and went about my business, since arguing with my grandmother was never a productive exercise. Especially when it involved supernatural mandates from elsewhen in the spacetime continuum.

I passed the dining room table where the ladies had been seated and noticed one of my Model Rocketry magazine issues sitting on top of a stack of newspapers.

Aha!

That particular issue contained an article I had written. It was my first piece accepted by a real publication, and I received an impressive $75 stipend for my efforts- almost $700 today, adjusted for inflation- not bad for a 13 year old's first submission. I'm certain my grandmother had passed the magazine around to impress her guests, including the fortune teller lady, which made her prophecy of me becoming a published author something less than prophetic.

Although, to be precise, she said that was something I'd achieve as an adult. Apparently my teenage efforts in a hobby magazine didn't count.

I did become a “published author” when I grew up, although it has never been my primary vocation. I attribute that circumstance to my family's unreasonable expectation to eat on a daily basis. Still, not counting the output from my brief newspaper career, I've written several hundred magazine columns, scores of technical papers, and reams of software documentation.

But, alas, no book describiing tales of adolescent pie baking in West Virginia.

Grandma passed away in 1979. She had seen me get married and present to her a great-grandson and a great-granddaugher: events she confided had also been predicted well in advance. “She even said you'd have a boy first, and then a girl less than two years later.“ My daughter had indeed arrived only 20 months after my son's initial appearance. This only strengthened my grandmother's certainty that the harrowing story of her early years would be documented and published by yours truly.

So, why have I waited so long to fulfill my grandmother's request?

Frankly, I was hoping I'd accomplish something impressive and noteworthy or hit the lottery and then dictate everything to a ghostwriter who would do the heavy lifting. It also seemed a bit presumptuous to write an autobiography or memoir until I was a bit closer to, as Monty Python so eloquently put it, running down the curtain and joining the choir invisible.

I turn 70 on September 11, 2024, which was my father's age when he died. (Technically, since he was born in February and passed in October, I won't reach the end of his life span until May 18, 2025.) While I'm in relatively good health- far better than he was at that age, at least- the inevitability of mortality weighs more heavily each day. I've had several friends and acquaintances shuffle off this mortal coil in the past year, some after long illnesses and, more disturbingly, some literally dropping dead in their tracks in mid-sentence. I scan the obituaries every day, and I've noticed the average age of those wandering into the Elysian Fields getting closer to my own, and many bite the big one even earlier than 69.

An autobiography, a strictly chronological account of my existence, would resemble the caption of a cartoon I've had hanging in my office for the past 30 years: “That's the way it is- interminable periods of boredom and brief moments of intense excitement.” So I'm opting for the memoir form instead- a subjective collection of narratives that describe only the interesting bits.

Another reason for the delay is to guarantee there isn't anyone left who posseses a memory superior to mine or, even worse, is prone to litigation. There are still a few of my early contempories around, but their good natures and, frankly, lack of interest should avoid any unpleasantness.

I've always written in the short form, 1,500 words or less, and that's what I'll be doing here. I'll pick a topic, incident, or experience, do 1,500 words on it, and post it here. Grandma and the fortune teller expected this effort would be in book form- well, welcome to the 21st century, ladies.

This category of blog post is tagged on the site as the KGB Wayback Journal. Each entry will be numbered, and you can access other entries by clicking on KGB Wayback Journal in the Categories: box immediately below this post, or by navigating to the archives page and looking under Categories: for a specific numbered entry.

It's taken 56 years, but I'm finally keeping my promise. I do have what I think are interesting glimpses of personal events to share, and glimpses of West Virginia hotel pie baking in the early twentieth century.

I have no set schedule for publishing additional material, but I'll attempt to do my best. After all, it's only 557 days to May 18, 2025.

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Categories: KGB Wayback Journal, KGB Wayback Journal #1


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