The reality of that didn’t hit me until I was almost fifty. I woke up one morning a few days before my fiftieth birthday and suddenly grasped the enormity of it. A half a century is no joke. When I was already old enough to pull the tail of our cat in Belgrade, German tanks were rolling into Paris. It wasn’t the gray hairs on my head that got me, but the deluge of memories. I remembered sitting in the first grade classroom in the fall of 1945 staring at the pictures of Marx, Stalin, and Marshal Tito that hung over the blackboard. I recalled the long forgotten brands of Balkan cigarettes; Russian, French, and American pop tunes from the war years, and the 1930s movies, of which few people alive today have any notion, that were still being shown in my childhood. So many memories came back to me at once; all of a sudden my life seemed to be that of a complete stranger. It took months to get used to it—if one can ever get used to knowing that the world and people one once knew have vanished without a trace. In the final months of my father’s life, every time I went to visit him we talked about books. He had no patience for novels any more. History still fascinated him, and so did certain philosophers. The gloomier the thinker he was reading, the more pleased my father became, since it confirmed his long-held suspicion: the world was going to hell.
more from Charles Simic at the NYRB here.