Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Before I drove my mother to her dentist appointment this morning, I asked where the dentist was located.  I forget exactly what she said, but after she named a few nearby landmarks I caught on.  "Behind the A&P?" I suggested.  "No," said she, "next block over, behind...." "Oh," I said, "I meant behind the newer A&P, now Family Dollar."  Exactly.

That's how conversations go between old-timers.  Newcomers might not know what we were talking about, but we remembered the A&P grocery store's location on Main Street, near the theater, as well as its next location on Cherry Street.  A few blocks away was the store's competitor, IGA, oops, Dave's Market, or rather, now the Community Market.  This kind of thing helps liven up a visit to what used to be home, whether Bluffton, Chapel Hill, Northern Virginia, Baltimore, St. Louis, or Salisbury.  Snapshots, sometimes movies, accompany each return with increments of the past.

Wandering about town with my mother is like entering a Clue game board, or maybe Trivial Pursuit.  Vaguely familiar faces jog recollections, usually less than half right.  Maybe I guess a last name, maiden names for females.  The first name, if one comes to mind, is likely to be off by a birth or two, sometimes even a generation.  A friend of mine says he hates to "go home" because everyone looks so old.  Someone seen everyday, including a mirror's reflection, doesn't look nearly as old as a remembered face 40 years later.

During Monday's lunch, we sat with two women, my former piano teacher and the former organist of my childhood church.  Starting with their children, we branched out to other teachers and students, mostly with a musical bent.  I felt like a Boy Scout at a shooting range, taking wild shots at the beginning then steadily moving into the bull's eye.  I amazed myself by pulling names out of thin air, people who had vanished from my life forty years ago.

I'm not sure Mrs. Szabo believed me when I told her she had taught me one of the most important business lessons of my life.  I was at least 20 minutes late for a piano lesson because my voice teacher had run late.  "I figured you weren't coming," she said from her desk, looking as if she'd moved on to something else and I was interrupting.  Intimated by professors, she and he, I said, "I'm sorry, but my voice lesson ran over."  "You have a responsibility, too," she said sternly, "if he runs over when you have a lesson with me, you need to tell him and reschedule with him if necessary."  Today's Mrs. Szabo laughed, "Me, stern?"  "Definitely," I said, "we thought of you as being very stern, and your comment stuck with me forever -- 'you have a responsibility, too.'"

John Murray stopped by our table on his way out.  "Do you remember me?" he asked.  "Sure do," said I.  "You raced across the cornfield one day to bawl me out for setting off an M-80.  I climbed a tree and you found me."  Remarkably, he proceeded to recite the same story he told me that day, maybe 50 years ago, about the fellow who had seriously wounded himself lighting a firecracker.

"Sounds tiring," says Virginia.

She's right.  Working my memory like this is like sightreading music for 4 hours at a stretch.  Naps are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. mary pannabecker steinerFebruary 28, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Mrs. S. always scared me. Mr. S....not so much. Maybe I was less intimidated by violin than piano.