Around and About with Richard McCarthy: ‘The sun that is young once only’

  • Richard McCarthy

For the Gazette
Thursday, November 11, 2021

Editor’s note: Amherst resident Richard McCarthy, a longtime columnist at the Springfield Republican, debuts a monthly column in the Gazette today called “Around and About,” because, as he explains, “a lot of my columns tend to be about something that captures my attention as I’m around and about.”

Recently, I was stopped at a red light on Riverdale Street in West Springfield, which for those who are unfamiliar with it, is similar in makeup to Route 9 in Hadley. I had bailed off of Interstate 91 South. The traffic there had snarled to a stop-and-crawl, and I was concerned about being late for an appointment down in Springfield.

While waiting at the light, I heard some young voices singing in unison, loudly and with gusto, or to use musical terms, “fortissimo” and “vivace.” The live concert was coming from my left, and I looked across the divider to the other side of the road and saw that the “performers” were a group of young women in a black SUV waiting at a light.

To my knowledge, I’d never heard the song they were singing before, but that was par for the course for me nowadays. The only music station I listen to on my car radio plays songs from the 1950s and ’60s, when I was occupying the time of life that now belonged to the young women in the SUV. On my station, I can often hear the first few instrumental notes of a song and name it, even before the vocals begin. As regards to 21st-century popular music, I am totally out of it.

As I looked at the SUV, the driver met my eyes and gave me a big smile. I realized that she was returning my smile, that I had been smiling reflexively at the memory of and identification with their moment. If I had to characterize the driver’s look and smile, I’d say that it was a mixture of warm encouragement of me for affirming them and her getting a kick out of the old geezer remembering when he was their age.

It felt almost as if she had caught me at something, a positive something, but a catchworthy something nonetheless. She pointed me out to the other young women, and they kept singing while she kept my look and my smile locked onto hers.

In our little impromptu, improvised vignette, I’d been assigned a role for which I hadn’t auditioned — septuagenarian nostalgic for “the sun that is young once only.” I’d much rather have tried out for the role of young person singing away in the middle of my pack, but alas I was a half-century or so too old for the part.

Their light turned green, and they headed off down their side of the road to, if fate allowed, their own next half-century or so of life. As they drove off, one of the young women yelled to me in a buoyant voice, “Bye buddy,” with that mixture of enjoyment at our cool connection and “we’re young and you’re not” bravado. I’d had my red light minute as an auxiliary member, or perhaps more accurately, mascot of their tribe, but it was over.

I thought of how when you are that age, you never really comprehend that being young is not intrinsic to who you are; that it is but a momentary grace. You never really believe that your youth will one day be on the other side of the divider, singing heedlessly, acting as if it never knew you.

Then my light turned green, and I continued in the direction I’d been heading, to my appointment in Springfield, and a bit father down the road, to my appointment in Samarra.

Richard McCarthy of Amherst grew up in Springfield.