Last night the seven-member folk group I play with, Just Plain Folk, got together after a long winter break. Before deep and constant snow made parking impossible at our usual rehearsal place at Stefan and Shirley Vogel’s home, we had been working on some new numbers. We warmed up our voices and guitars (and Bill Archie’s great banjo) with favorites like “Kisses Sweeter than Wine and “Farewell to Nova Scotia.” Then group leader Liz Moisan suggested we get out a new song that bass guitarist Vince Kraft had brought in.
Simply named “Time,” it was recorded by the Pozo-Seco Singers in the 1960s. In a flash I am back in college, sitting on the fat arm of a worn, overstuffed chair in the smoking lounge at Miller House at William Smith College in Geneva, New York. On the nondescript couch across from me is my roommate Rusty Farmer (true, and she married Jim Wait). Aside from being the most non-judgmental person I know and having an irrepressible sense of humor, her roommate pluses included playing a Martin guitar well and briefly dating folk singer Tom Rush. In this flashback, Rusty plays on the Martin the opening chords of “Time” – G, A minor, D7, G – and we begin to sing this sweet, quiet song:
‘Some people run, some people crawl
Some people never seem to move at all
Some roads lead forward, some roads lead back
Some roads are bathed in light, some wrapped in fearsome black”
Then, leaning forward to better hear each other and blend our voices (one of the great pleasures of folk music), she sings melody and I do some kind of a harmony line. Vocals soulfully intensify as two college sophomores do their best to convey the worldly burden of the refrain’s message, the song’s heart:
“Time, oh Time, where did you go
Time, oh, good, good Time, where did you go”
In June I’ll be going to William Smith College for a 50th reunion, an occasion that surely creates more instinctive denial than a $200 parking ticket. Undoubtedly some of us will be together again who sat around the smoker on that worn, oversized furniture singing songs by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and Pete Seeger. I hope Rusty comes. Many songs may tickle our memories, but, as we return to the place where we prepared to move out into the world and find ourselves, none can resonate more deeply or immediately than “Time.”
Time, oh Time, where did you go?
Time, oh good, good Time, where did you go?
At the reunion we’ll share stories of our roads; even we who built them are surprised at how long and strong they've become. Through lessons both harsh and gentle, we've learned that some roads have lead forward and the others have lead back. We've learned in our seventy-plus years that all roads, at some points, have been bathed in light, andall roads, at some points, have been wrapped in fearsome black.
We’ve met people who never got, as the song says, no matter how deserving, and those who never gave, no matter what kind of abundance they had. We’ve all known people who will never die and those who never lived. We’ve been related to these people, worked with them, served on committees with them, or lived next door to them. We understand people and life better now, and understanding enables us to accept people, including ourselves, more. I suspect that acceptance will account for much laughter at this 50th reunion.
Undoubtedly some of us reunioners have kept to life’s straight-of-way, but others have explored its side roads, taken detours, or simply changed directions. One college friend achieved inspirational success as a corporate lawyer in Miami and scrapped it to became a French-speaking sculptor with an atelier in Paris. Another took her Political Science degree to Maine where she still keeps a 100-acre farm, raises bees, and is conspicuously content and happy.
For those who expect that age provides answers: bad news. For the most part we answered the questions that plagued and tormented us when we were 20 (who am I? where am I going? what will I do with my life?). But now, fifty years later, the same questions return, requiring new answers. Who are we as older people? What direction are we moving in? How do we plan to live this part of our lives?
Those of us who will meet again in early June after 50 years may not remember the lovely song titled “Time,” but we surely know its lyrics by heart.
Indeed. Time, where did you go?