Funny how just a smell, taste, sight, sound, or a place can land us in the middle of a memory. The scent of homemade bread puts me back at the table in my grandmother’s kitchen.
At the sight of a child clanging a triangle, I’m a second grader again in Miss Hatfield’smusic class holding out my fist for her to rap my knuckles with a ruler—probably for talking.
Whenever I hear Three Dog Night belt, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog,” I’m back dancing with my friends on the hardwood floor of the school gymnasium. The smell of a fresh, plowed field sends me racing between rows of tall tobacco plants across the street from our house in Kentucky, the soft mud squishing beneath my bare feet.
But I’m carried back to two special moments every time I play the third hole on the golf course at the Bridgeport Country Club and whenever I hear the 1960’s hit “Moon River.”
The summer the doctors added the word “terminal” to his name, my father danced over the green on Number Three. It was one of those days when the sun lures golfers away from their day jobs to play hooky on the long, lush fairways. Number Three is also a par three, and my drive that afternoon dropped in the sand trap just below the green. Social golfer that I am, I was thrilled to land a ball anywhere near the hole.
Dad chipped up onto the green and waited for me, his hand ready to pull the flag. I laughed when I saw him, hat askew, fingers tight around the pole. I grabbed my sand wedge and trudged over to the beach hoping to only whiff the shot once, but I made contact on my first try, hitting sand first, then the ball.
I climbed out of the trap as my ball hit the short grass with a soft thud. I stepped onto the green just in time to see it roll into the cup. Dad howled, kicked up his heels, and danced around the flag. Then he skipped over to me, looped his arm through mine, and swung me ‘round and ‘round across the green.
A few months later, I danced one final time with my dad. The last leaf sashayed to a ground gone cold. Women wrinkled their brows over their first ponderings of a fat turkey stuffed at both ends. Men pulled blaze orange off their cellar hooks and prepared their guns in time to inaugurate buck season. Children, eager eyes toward December, sharpened their pencils for letters to Santa.
Me? I was with my dad, just the two of us. We were taking a walk around the house when he looked up into my eyes and said, “You’re not supposed to be taller than me.” It was true. Cancer had reduced his frame, once just shy of six feet, by pounding him into a 5’4” cell. But he smiled, slipped his right arm around my waist and clutched my shoulder for support with his left.
“Let’s dance,” he said.
As he embraced me, pressing his cheek next to mine, Dad hummed the bars of Moon River. Our steps were small and cautious, but he did not let the disease that stole away his strength take the lead. My father held on to me, and I held on to the moment.
We live in the present, as we should, but our memories are gifts. They warm us, lift us, and instruct us. Memories are the insurance that keeps special moments and the people we hold dear alive within us. The past is filled with the stuff that makes us whole.