We were slow to get going this morning after spending a late night out with friends who had flown in for quick business trips. E was trying to convince me to loaf around with her awhile this morning, to keep our pj’s on and go into school and work a bit later. Not getting anywhere with that approach, she started lobbying for an end of the day treat.
“Mom – could we just call Dad this morning and see if he’ll pick me up early, during nap, and take me back to his office where I can get Cheez-its and milk any day of the week I want? I mean, I like your office too, of course, just only really on the donut days (Fridays).” M works in the tallest building downtown, with large banks of elevators, lots of glass overlooking the city, and a small little snack shop off the marbled lobby that sells this infamous snack. She chooses the same thing every time, and then eats the little crackers one by one, sipping white milk from the carton with a straw. She’s the kind to time the consumption perfectly…I’m quite sure she never runs out of milk before the last little cheddary pillow is eaten. I’ve seen photos he’s taken of her with his camera phone eating this snack, and I know it’s a memory she will have forever of going to Dad’s office – making her purchases, gripping them tightly, along with his hand, as they board the elevator, arranging herself at his desk with her wares. I know she’ll remember it, because I can remember these sorts of things too from the same age. I can remember the old soda machine in my mother’s elementary school – it was the kind that held green glass bottles and you had to raise the lid like a deep freezer, and put your dime into the slot to release the bottle of your choice. I can remember how the ridges along the top of the cap felt – kind of poky – as you gripped them and wove the neck of the bottle through the tracks like a maze. I can still picture where this machine was located. It was in the room to the right of the Principal’s office – and while it was off limits to students during the day, it was accessible to those lucky ones who got to stick around for the faculty meetings and were given a shiny dime that was really a free pass to the lounge. I can remember the next school where she taught, and the PayDay I bought some afternoons for thirty-five cents. I can hear the sound of the spiral twisting and then releasing the bar to the bottom of the case, and how good it tasted with an Orange Crush. I remember the feeling that, even with permission, we kids were in a place that we weren’t really supposed to be, and how quickly we would back away from the machine and our snack contemplation when a teacher entered and slid her thirty-five cents in for a Tab or a bag of salted Planter’s peanuts.
I feel like we’ve entered an age with the kid where these memories really start to stick… I have no doubt that she will remember things that occurred before now, but in ways that might require re-telling on occasion to keep the facts straight. This time is when the real memories set in. They are the kind that are rooted in tradition and ritual, and are often times most significant when the memory itself is so inconsequential. When she’s my age she might not be able to list the number and titles of the symphonies she’s attended as a young child, but I’m quite sure she’ll remember the feel of the velveteen on the fancy balcony chair, or the way the lights dim as the performance begins, or the sound of the instruments warming up in that fabulous incongruous, discordant way that marks the coming of something finally, breathtakingly, synchronized. She might remember walking into that place with her Dad, and talking about it with him later that day. And she might not. Childhood memories are funny in that way. But I still like to think that she’ll hear a strain of a certain piece again – maybe in her travels or her studies or in her own visit to the symphony as an adult and think of him.
I’m quite certain she will every time she eats a Cheez-it.