They say you can’t go back. Or perhaps you shouldn’t. But sometimes it’s inevitable.
Steely Dan Radio on Pandora. That’ll do it for me. A tinge of past immediately starts flowing through the neurons and blood stream. Back to childhood days in my dad’s mustard El Camino or hunched over the Fischer-Price record player with my brother. Back to teenage days, cycling through songs on random play from the new CD player. Back to college days, blasting out the sub woofers in my ’87 Nissan Sentra. And about a hundred other memories involving a Steely Dan song.
Whether you want it to or not, music will take you back.
There are those songs you can’t bear to hear. Either they bring back a dark memory or someone you’d rather not keep in your consciousness. Those we turn off as soon as we can, if possible. Or perhaps we need a good cry out and we let it rip.
Then there are those songs that fire up our frontal lobe like fourth of July sparklers and we are transported to a time and place no longer existing. Even if our childhood homes are still intact, or the city in which we grew up, it is never the same.
I guess that’s why they say you can never go back. Because no matter how bad we may want it to be there, it is gone.
And that is one of the many beauties of music– enabling us to hold onto a moment as if we were right there. Right there in our dad’s old car. Right there on the front porch with the Walk-man. Right there in the school parking lot with our quirky friends. Right there dancing with Grandma. Or and old friend. Or an old flame. Those that have moved on or passed away. In this moment they are alive.
And this is why I play Steely Dan on Sunday morning. So I won’t forget.
A photograph of you welcomes
anyone entering my door
It was taken years ago
The scent of tobacco leaves fill my
Chats by the kitchen table
Home-grown tomatoes and buttermilk
Scribbled artwork on the fridge
Crumpled tissue next to the snuff cup
We have the same middle name
Decades of holidays and summer visits
autumn leaf pile jumping
Tag in the backyard
Old toys smelling of age
Walks in the cemetery
You always bought me pajamas and
kitchen towels for Christmas
Now shredded and worn thin
Your birthday card consistently the first
in my mailbox
But this year it never arrived
You always stood at your front door
to watch me drive away
And this is how I will remember you
Furiously waving as if never wanting to say
Rest in Peace, Emma Marie. Granny. You will be greatly missed.
These are the apricot fried pies my mom used to make when I was a kid. I’ve mentioned them here before.
This is a photo taken a couple years back when she revisited the recipe in response to my nagging about wanting some. Forgive my crappy food photography.
But can’t you just taste them? The golden, buttery crust. The sweet, sticky apricot. Why have I now tortured myself so? My mom is out of town, taking care of my ailing grandmother. There is no way I’m getting a bite of these. I’ve tried recreating some of her recipes to no avail.
There are other tastes from my childhood which linger on my tongue. Granny’s backyard garden tomatoes, crimson, bursting with robust nectar. Nana’s pancake corn bread, the edges crispy and the middle a fluffy intoxication of milled corn. Nanny’s sweet rice, solidly puffed, dewy with cream and sugar, peppered with a hint of nutmeg.
Can you get I was raised in the South?
Now I’m one of those gluten-free, non-mammal eaters. Don’t hate me. My digestive system, conscience, and waist line appreciates it.
I’m grateful to have these culinary memories. I hope to provide the same. I do make a pretty mean grilled cheese for little man. And this Moroccan chicken stew. And coconut rice that tastes almost as good as Nanny’s.
What sumptuous dishes do you remember from your childhood? Have you ever tried recreating them?
I have been thinking a lot about my grandmother lately. The one who is deceased, not the one who is alive. Granny is still dipping snuff and listening to country music in her ranch-style home. Nana is somewhere with that great spirit in the sky, perhaps noshing on walnuts and dancing to Glenn Miller.
But I have felt her presence lately. I’m not sure why she has decided to visit but I will welcome it nevertheless.
The other day I was sitting at the dining room table, a worn 1920’s set I inherited from Nana’s mother. For a moment I was ten again, or rather wished I was. I could hear echoes of my cousin’s laughter and smell the buttered toast Nana would broil for us every morning. I could see her spinning in the front room to the sound of the jazz album. I could feel the spongy firmness of the big eraser I used to delete scattered lines from my latest Spirograph design.
There was always something to do at Nana and Papa’s. Whether it was trudging and scavenging and playing among Papa’s junk yard or dancing to the music from the turn table and playing “Office” in the living room or being a guinea pig in one of my older cousin’s traps or home-made haunted houses in the basement.
Sometimes it feels like those times were a hundred years ago. But thank god I have those memories at least.
I love that my own son now plays around that worn antique set. Does his homework there. Builds Legos. Has chatty weeknight dinners with me there. I bought him a Spirograph set a while back. He didn’t quite take to it like I thought he would.
I think my Nana would be proud of me for the most part. Maybe that’s why she visits from time to time. Just to let me know.
And to remind me to keep dancing.
This photograph encapsulates so much of what I remember-and miss- about the ’80s. This is a real photograph (as if you couldn’t tell from the faded color and
hideous retro wallpaper) of me, my bro, and some neighbor kids in the kitchen where I ate many of my meals from 1979 to 1995.
This kitchen went through several make-overs over the decades but this is what it looked like for many of my young childhood years. That damn telephone cord ticked me off more than a few times as it either coiled up in a way even Houdini would have a difficult time unraveling the thing or it choked me or my brother as my mom methodically raced around the kitchen prepping hobo dinners and fried apricot pies.
But there was always a surprise to who may be on the other end of the line when it loudly rang until you picked it up. And during phone conversations there was not really anywhere to go but stretch the cord beyond its limits into the dining room to have a “private” conversation.
And that Tupperware. I don’t know how but I have that olive-green bowl I’m eating from in the photograph resting on a shelf in my own kitchen now. Don’t know what happened to the others. I suppose they are in Tupperware heaven, reuniting with their lids. I take my Greek yogurt to school in mine and the kids look at it as if it’s a relic from an ancient civilization. God knows how many PBAs have mutated inside. But I love it because it reminds me of this time. The ’80s. A time I will forever be nostalgic about.
Look how happy we are eating our ice cream. At first glance I thought it might be cottage cheese because we did eat that with canned pineapple at times but what kids would be that excited about curdled cheese?
My brother was always goofy. I was the overachiever who loved him making me laugh. Though now he is 700 miles away from me I can hear a line from a movie or song from our childhood and burst out in laughter thinking how he would mimic it.
There are hundreds more nostalgic memories I have from those years but right now I’ll just leave it at this one photograph.
Even though most everything in that kitchen is now in a landfill (except the rustic fall scene painting- my Granny has it) that is how the kitchen always looks in my dreams.
What did your childhood kitchen look like? Is there anything you wish you still had from it?
Two weeks into summer break and I already can’t spell certain words. For a moment I almost forgot the word ‘selection’ starts with an ‘s’ not a ‘c’. I guess this is why they have my son doing summer homework.
“How often do you need me to do homework?” he asks.
Given that he has 30 days of math problems, two books to read and answer a series of questions about, and some writing exercises (fun!), I suggest EVERY DAY.
And I have given myself homework as well. Such as reading (I finished a young adult novel in 3 days) and writing (here I am). Of course I will also help him with his homework as long as it’s not algebra.
Brain gets stagnant and dumb if you don’t use it. Or if you watch too much TV.
Everyone deserves a break though. I think everyone should have two weeks off each season to fully enjoy all that nature and other passions have to offer. Alas other types of learning during those times.
But this is America and unfortunately I don’t see this happening. Only in my little dream world where ice cream has no calories and unicorns prance around the streets.
But thank god for summer break. And I am truly sorry for those of you who don’t get one. If it makes you feel any better this school year I had to wipe poo off toilet seats, smell about 35 stinky sneakers every day, observe at least 10 bloody teeth being extracted, act as counselor/therapist/nurse in countless situations, and cried to myself on a few occasions while feeling all the feelings that erupt embarrassing stifled bouts of snot-bubble sobbery at work. And that was just the first three months.
So we’ll both enjoy this break and learn a little something along the way. And for the record I do know how to spell
We bought a new float yesterday. It’s a blow-up surf board with a tiki image in aqua blue, coral, sunshine yellow, and grass green. It smells like fresh plastic-coated fun. It smells like summer vacation.
There’s a slight tug at my stomach, a nagging to make sure to fit everything one can possibly fit in this time off. My boy is 12. Is this his last childhood summer before he starts getting all teen-agy?
I want to relish in every freckled smile. Every swish of a hand in pool water. Every lazy snuggle. Every moment spent lingering over breakfast when during the school year it’s rush rush rush.
I took an assistant teaching job for many reasons, number one being so I could be on my son’s schedule and enjoy some of his days off with him just like my mother and father did with me.
This time is more precious than gold. More fleeting than the speed of a hummingbird’s wing.
I hear the snap of Nerf guns coming from his bedroom and the goofy chatter between him and his good friend. We will take the new float out again today. The five bucks spent on it will more than pay for itself in laughter and memories.
I like looking around the house and seeing the float, the beach towels, the pizza box from last night’s sleepover feast. A myriad of colors representing all that summer has and should stand for.
What do your summer colors look like? If you could accomplish one thing this summer, what would it be?