Often when a holiday approaches that results in a gathering of family, it occurs to me that it sucks my kids will never know my parents. It makes me doubly glad they have my wife’s mother and father, who are without question astounding examples of showing people the love of Jesus rather than just telling them about it. I am also fortunate and blessed to still have my sisters–who the boys doknow–but it is still not the same as grandma.
As the years pass, I find I remember less and less about my mom and dad. That also sucks, but it is understandable, because time takes its toll. At first, it’s like the edges of an old photograph first losing corners, and then beginning to turn inward. Culminating with the image peeling and wrinkling from the face of the photo paper, like a kid peeling a skin of Elmer’s glue from his palm. And then there is only a ghost of an image left behind.
That’s what many of my memories are like, especially of when I was small. But every now and then something extraordinary happens. My swiss-cheese brain will fire this little capsule into my memory–a little pocket of sight, smell, and sensation.
That happened at church Saturday night, and I have no idea why. I was listening to Alan’s sermon, but my mind began to wander, as it sometimes does. I started thinking of some old cassette tapes I’d been listening to that my sister gave me. They’re mostly my dad’s recorded narration of various things he filmed on an old Super 8 movie camera that didn’t have any sound. Instead, he would carry around a satchel with a tape recorder and a hand mic inside.
Over the past week, I’d been listening to his dry monotone give a litany of names and places that meant little to my 45 year old self (except the Disneyland tapes, of course). Along with the tapes, I also received some previously unknown information regarding my dad and my brother that sort of brought a lot of dark shadows from my past into the light of day.
I’d been mulling over those details for almost a week, and had no idea what to do with them. I still don’t. I found myself combing through my mental archives looking for something to dispell those details—either something to make them not true, or something good about those many years gone into the ether. Or maybe something to help me get my head out of my ass and stop feeling sorry for myself.
I listened to another tape, and on it I could hear my own voice at about 3, I think, along with the voice of my mother. Apparently, I’d turned off my dad’s tape recorder while on a ride at Disneyland and she’d had to turn it back on so he could resume his monotone.
It was so strange to hear my own voice, and juxtapose that with how my son’s voice sounds now–like when he comes running into our room to let the dogs out of their kennel and says “Hi, boys! Hi, boys!”
And to hear the voice of my mother, clear and without the haze of pain, and painkillers, and cancer. Truly amazing. It made me remember being Tommy again—someone I could hardly remember.
So what happened was that something Alan said made a spark plug fire in my head and I remembered sitting on the kitchen floor with my mom when I was really small.
We’d have these picnics, she’d call them. We didn’t do it all the time, and I don’t really remember why it did happen, but what she’d do would be to spread out whatever she’d put together for us to eat and we would sit there cross-legged and have our lunch. It was always lunch. Sometimes there wouldn’t be very much to eat at all, but I remember sitting there on the floor and looking up at her, and just feeling…safe, I guess, which was something I did not always feel. I loved those times—those picnics. She had this little radio on the desk next to the telephone, and country music would always be playing.
I remember smiling a little bit in church when those thoughts and images flashed through my head. I could feel my wife’s hand on my neck and I thought about how interesting it was how the mind works—how often it is the simple and most basic things that make the biggest impression. Here I am, forty years later thinking about white-bread bologna sandwiches (or maybe it was peanut butter and jelly) and sitting on a small oval of carpet in the kitchen at 9141 Prospect Avenue.
I hope my kids have memories like that. I hope that one day my boys think of me playing video games or having Nerf Wars or playing “gotcha now” and maybe they’ll smile a little while they sit in church with their wives. I guess the best thing I can say or do is work toward making those kind of memories. I need to work harder at not trying to impress, or shock-and-awe, but just enjoy the kids as they are, no matter how times might seem.
Maybe we can sit on the floor and eat sandwiches on a Friday afternoon, or run wild in the castle at West Wetlands. All I know is time is no one’s friend, and there’s no better time than the present to get started.
In any case, I’m grateful for that memory. And with mother’s day coming up, I will be thinking of my mom for sure. I will remember country music in the kitchen in the morning. I will remember looking up at her blue eyes and thinking they were beautiful. I will remember the love she had for the grandkids she was able to know, and know in my heart she would have had the same love for mine.
Moms are awesome, and mine was, too.