Mr. Tomlinson is a man who spends too much time on Memory Lane. That’s what Mum says anyway. But I’ve been watching him for weeks now and I swear he never leaves the house.
He sits in his living room most days, in an old armchair, surrounded by dusty books and faded drapes. He sits and reads, sits and looks through tired photo albums, sits and listens to scratchy records.
I wonder how he gets there.
Does he take the bus? There’s a bus shelter just around the corner from our house. I go and look up all the stops on the timetable. I even drag my finger down the list one by one. I read them out loud so I don’t miss any. No Memory Lane though.
Maybe he walks there? Mr. Tomlinson walks slow, kind of low to the ground but if Memory Lane isn’t far, I’m sure he’d be able to make it.
I take a tour of the neighbourhood. Every time I come to a new street I stop and write down the name on the street sign. I even use capital letters so I get the names right. I have a pretty good map by the end of it. No Memory Lane though.
If it’s not on the bus route and he can’t walk there, Memory Lane must be far away. Maybe he has to take a taxi?
I know taxis cost money, so I save up my pocket money and do some extra chores for Mum around the house. It takes me a while but soon I have enough.
I call the taxi company using the kitchen phone and ask to go to Memory Lane. The operator calls me a punk and tells me to stop joking around.
‘But I’m not joking,’ I tell them, ‘I really want to go to Memory Lane.’
‘Well you can’t get there in a taxi,’ the operator tells me before hanging up.
If he can’t take the bus, can’t walk there and taxis don’t drive there, how on earth does Mr. Tomlinson get to Memory Lane? I decide I’ll just have to go ask him.
I walk across the road and up to his front gate. It creaks loudly as I push it open and I make my way through the garden. The path is overgrown and some of the concrete has cracks running through it.
I reach the front door and knock as loud as I can. After a moment, I see the handle turn and the door opens an inch.
‘Yes? What do you want?’ I hear Mr. Tomlinson ask from inside.
‘How are you getting to Memory Lane?’ I ask him, my fists balled up at my sides.
The door opens a little wider and I see his face appear. His thick glasses make his eyes look like goldfish.
He squints at me, ‘What do you mean?’
‘Mum says you spend too much time on Memory Lane but I never see you go out,’ I explain.
Mr. Tomlinson just stares at me. I feel my cheeks go red and I look down at my shoes.
‘Come inside and I’ll show you,’ he says.
He pushes open the door and I follow him into the house.
He motions for me to sit as we enter the living room. I perch on the edge of a faded armchair, my toes just touching the ground.
Mr. Tomlinson shuffles over to the mantelpiece and carefully picks up a photo frame. He looks at it for a moment before handing it to me.
The silver frame is heavy and dull. The photo inside is black and white and overexposed. There’s a group of five men, all in uniform. They’re smiling and laughing with each other, almost as if they don’t know the camera is there.
Each man has a funny shaped hat. It comes down low over their face like a bucket. One man is holding up a tin mug with a broken handle.
‘To get to Memory Lane, you need to look at a photo or listen to a song that reminds you of someone who isn’t around any more. Then you close your eyes and imagine that person you love in your mind. Once you see them there, your heart will swell with how you felt at that moment with them,’ Mr Tomlinson explains softly, ‘It’s like getting to go back in time and visit an old friend.’
I look down at the photo and the smiling faces of the young men in uniform.
‘Do you always visit these people?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘because in the war we made a promise. Going down Memory Lane is the only way I know how to keep it.’
I hand the photo back to him and he replaces it gently on the mantelpiece. His hand lingers on the frame.
I sit quietly and think about what Mr. Tomlinson has said. After a moment I ask, ‘What was the promise you made?’
At first he doesn’t say anything and I start to think he didn’t hear me.
I’m about to ask again when he turns and looks at me. He then straightens his shoulders, takes a breath and in a low voice recites his promise:
They shall not grow old; as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
This post is dedicated to ANZAC day. Celebrated on April 25th, it commemorates Australians and New Zealanders killed in war, and honours returned and serving servicemen and women.