Best Used By….

Food often comes with a label that says a product is “Best Used By” a certain date. We take the label for granted on many food products, but everything has a “best used by” date even if it does not come with a label. Anyone who has been married and later divorced knows that relationships often have a “best used by” date. Everything does, but some things—including relationships—can extend the date when that’s worth doing. Old automobiles can be restored and are often worth a great deal more money than when they were new. Classic cars are an example. Back in the 1950s, “classic” cars from the 1930s and ’40s became hot rods in the hands of skilled mechanics. The car most young men lusted for was a ’57 Chevy, although Ford may have had fans as well.

Have ’57 Chevys passed their “best used by” date? Although they may still be desired by car collectors and hobbyists, they no longer do well as vehicles for family transportation and trips to the grocery store, so the answer has to be “yes.” At the time, my uncle was Sales Manager for Gateway Chevrolet, so he had a ’57 Chevy. My family had a ’55 Chevy, which was the vehicle in which my dating life began. That’s undoubtedly one of the reasons Bob Seger’s song, Against the Wind, resonated:

Cars aren’t the only things that have a “best used by” date, of course. Old buildings are often torn down to make room for new. Much of the California I knew while growing up there no longer exists. Fields have been replaced by subdivisions, old subdivisions have been replaced by new fancier and more up-scale neighborhoods. Beaches and other recreational sites have been turned into State Parks with entrance and parking fees. The two-lane highways have been replaced by multi-lane freeways (and, in some cases, toll roads).

Population has increased, of course, and that leads to an increased need to control access. I haven’t been back to Sunset Beach or the beach at Half Moon Bay in years. That may be one of the reasons Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again resonated with me. It has been a long time since I’ve been back to California, but very little of what I knew remains.

That kind of nostalgia, however, was not the impetus for this blog post. We like to think of relationships has being “forever,” but they, too, have a “best if used by” date. We tend to forget that individuals—you, me, everyone—have not only a “best used by” date, but also an “expiration” date. If you are old enough to have had relatives grow old and die, you are already familiar with that process. My grandparents, my parents, and most of my aunts and uncles grew old and died. In my family, I’m next in line for that experience, assuming no catastrophic experiences for anyone. It is, after all, the natural order of things.

Relationships also can fall by the wayside as we go through life. In the “old days,” most people tended to stay in one location. This was especially true in farming communities. In some ways, wars changed that. One of the songs to come out of WWI was, “How Ya Gonna Keep Them Down on the Farm”:

When you get away from “home,” regardless of the reason, your perspective changes. I don’t know about you, but I have been a lot of places in my life and time, from Colorado to Indiana, from Indiana to Southern California, from Southern California to Northern California, from there to Ohio, then back to Southern California, then to Illinois. After Illinois, it was Ft. Campbell, Kentucky; Ft. Sam Houston, Texas; and then Long Binh, Vietnam. After that it was back to Illinois and then to Florida. After Florida it was Kalamazoo, Michigan. I have had good friends in all those locations, and, at this point, I have completely lost touch with most of them. Some of them, I assume, have died by now.

Matthew Arnold, in the poem Dover Beach, probably said it best. The ocean waves have the cadence of sadness. That’s one of the reasons friendships are so important and why it is so painful when one passes his or her “best used by” date.