Travel advertisements seem to always promise that you’ll make memories if you simply join them on this cruise or at that resort. I have made such memories, and would never trade them. But I’ve also noticed that many of my fondest memories come from everyday experiences. The slightest objects, smells, or sounds can bring us right back to a moment past. Here’s what I mean.
Sometime in the early 1970s, on a hot summer night, my dad introduced me to plums. We were huddled in our TV room – which we called the Blue Room because it was – you guessed it – blue. He sat down with plums and asked me if I wanted any. I said I didn’t think I would like them. He responded, as he did many times, “You don’t know unless you try.” So I tried. They were black plums, deep purple on the outside and deep red inside. They were juicy and they were delicious! They were so refreshing in the summer heat.
Over this past summer, that night came back to me, as if I were a small child in that blue room, talking to my dad. I’d bought a variety of plums and to my delight found that some were exactly the same as those I remembered. The second I cut into the first, saw the inside and smelled it’s sweetness, it all came back. It tasted like our smiles in the light of the television.
Cherries reminded me of my mom for many years, and still do. It’s because one summer she’d put a bunch of washed cherries in a big metal bowl, we took them out on the very green grass of our front yard, and she taught me how to eat them while we picnicked. Now they also remind me of my son, who also enjoys them.
Grape Kool-Aid reminds me of childhood days at the beach with my mom. She’d fill up a Tropicana glass gallon jar full of ice and grape Kool-Aid, and I would help mix in the sugar. The cold jar beaded condensation by the time we got to the water’s edge and spread our towels. It was too heavy for me to lift, but she would pour it into the cup for me. I loved the sound of the ice rattling against the glass jar, and how it tasted when the ice was melting, watering it down. I still love watering down flavored drinks, like Gatorade, and even orange juice.
Kiwi reminds me of my college friends. I had never had a kiwi before college. My friends got one or two to cut up and try. We all decided we liked them, even though they looked pretty gross. Because I was extremely opinionated and largely unfiltered in college, I am sure I said exactly that upon trying it. But when I eat kiwi now, I always think of the girls we were and the women we were becoming on that day.
Touching fresh mint springs brings me back to a tender scene with my grandfather. He would make iced tea and add fresh mint from his garden. I remember him bending down and asking me sweetly in his Italian accent if I’d like some. Sometimes when I drink something with fresh mint, I’m back at his summer home by the bay, the breeze blowing through the house from front to back, the hydrangeas on either side of the front door, and the pea gravel back yard where we sat enjoying those summer days.
Anything made of Mother of pearl reminds me of my grandparents in New Jersey, and of being at their home as a child. My grandfather had a business that made buttons. They mixed shell scraps into the cement for the sidewalk at their home. I thought the sidewalk, which ran along the house and next to a big apple tree, was beautiful. I would crouch down to trace the shell scraps with my fingers, little half-moon cut-outs where buttons had been successfully punched out at the factory. Other pieces were broken buttons damaged in the process. They were shiny and reflected light unlike the chalky-feeling outer shells. I marveled at the layers of shell that could be seen in some pieces. When my mom told me that they were scraps that weren’t needed after the buttons came out, I couldn’t fathom how anything so beautiful and interesting could be unwanted. I don’t have mother of pearl in my sidewalk, but I do have some picture frames that bring me joyful memories of those days.
Creeping phlox in my garden remind me of another grandparent. I think of her when their flowers emerge in my garden each spring. My grandmother planted long borders of them along one side of her sand-colored brick house. We would sometimes visit the home in Pennsylvania for Easter, and would be met by a long row of neat, mounded pink and purple blossoms visible as we approached over the hill. Everything about my grandmother’s house was very neat. Yes, even the creeping phlox.
Her husband – my grandfather – was just as neat. His garage was literally as clean as the inside of the house. Every tool shined and had a place on peg boards or in drawers. The floor was a shiny gray. Though the house and garage were relatively small, there was space around everything, and no clutter to speak of. Having lived through the Depression, they lived out the “waste not, want not” principle. Sometimes when I look at my own garage I have an urge to get everything out, wash it, paint the floor a shiny gray, and find homes for all that remains. Alas, I came of age with the saying, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” and my garage reflects that. So it’s a little easier said than done. But a girl can dream!
Music transports me to many places and experiences from years passed, but in a different way than objects. I don’t think there’s anything else that can move me across a variety of decades in the way music can. And there are both special days and every-days that surface for me. If I give in to the memory as the music plays, I find that my mind moves rapidly on to related memories. It’s as if I’m at a buffet, and there’s just one table after another of deliciousness to choose from.
Hearing Styx’s “The Best of Times” through the car radio, with its own nostalgic quality, I was immediately back at my cousin’s wedding as he married his high school sweetheart. I was in that room dancing and watching them dance, surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles and other relatives that I loved then, and love still though some have passed on. As I gave in to the memory, it shifted. I was at my own wedding many years later when that groom was a guest watching me get married. Then I was at a pool in Las Vegas celebrating my aunt’s birthday with our families, yet another wonderful experience.
We have so many precious gifts locked away in our brains, just waiting to be brought back to life. We can miss them on days when we move too quickly through the logistics of just getting things done. We should give ourselves the time to pause in the present, and to enjoy our experiences. Then we not only make new memories, but we are sometimes rewarded by moments of unique beauty past.