Matthew Lickona 11:49 p.m., Dec. 10
There are a few very old memories in my head that have endured for many years. Three of them are closely related and I think of them often, although they honestly don’t seem to hold much genuine significance for me, or anyone else for that matter. If I remember correctly, and I’m sure I do, I hadn’t yet entered kindergarten, so I must have been only four or maybe five years old when the three memories were created.
These memories involve my mother, her father, and me. I’ve asked my mother if she could help me to clarify these three memories but she told me she has absolutely no recollection of them at all. One of the memories consists of the three of us entering a seaside restaurant on a clear night. I’m not sure where the restaurant was, but I think it was near my grandfather’s home in Ocean Beach, perhaps in Point Loma or on Shelter Island. We walked across a wooden walk that led to the restaurant’s entrance. I held my mother’s hand as she and her father chatted pleasantly. The night was quiet, and I heard our footsteps sounding solidly on the wooden planks of the walk as the salty smelling ocean lapped gently at the shore nearby.
The restaurant was dark and there didn’t seem to be many people inside. A friendly hostess greeted us in the lobby and then led us to our table. There was a lighted candle on each table, every one of them glowing in a red glass container with white netting around it. I didn’t know why, but the little white nets clasping the pretty glass candle containers made me feel good and safe. My mother and grandfather for the most part ignored me, but I didn’t mind. I liked being in the ocean restaurant, and the small, sliced baguette with butter the waitress brought to us tasted wonderful. I don’t remember what we ordered because this is where the memory ends. Maybe I got a cheeseburger for dinner. I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember. My mother and grandfather probably ordered seafood.
Another memory is of my mother and me riding in my grandfather’s silver station wagon. My grandfather drove, my mother sat shotgun, and I was in the backseat. It was night. It may have even been the same night that we went to the seaside restaurant. My mother and her father talked about things that meant little to me. I looked out the window at people walking on the sidewalks beneath streetlights and driving their cars in the darkness. I thought about toys, comic books, cartoons, and which breakfast cereals I liked the best. Then my mother said something that caught my attention. “I can smell your bump, Dad,” she said.
My grandfather chuckled and held up his right elbow for her to see. “Yes,” he said, holding his arm at shoulder height in the car’s dark interior, “I really banged it a good one yesterday at work.” There was a medium sized bandage near my grandfather’s elbow.
“Does it still hurt?” my mother wanted to know.
“A little. But don’t worry about it, Kathy,” he said good-naturedly. “In a day or two it’ll be as good as new.”
I looked over the top of the front seat to get a better look at his injury. I inhaled deeply through my nose. I wanted to smell my grandfather’s bump too, a phenomenon that, until that very moment, I was unaware even existed. I smelled something unusual and mediciney. This, I assumed, was the bump. I had also suffered through bumps, and I wondered why mine never smelled like my grandfather’s. Maybe bumps didn’t smell funny until after you became an adult.
Years later I would attach the smell to mentholated topical ointments used for muscle relief.
The last of the memories is the one of us walking through a restaurant lobby. It was not the seaside restaurant. This restaurant was brightly lit, crowded, and our visit occurred during the daytime. I don’t know if we were arriving or leaving. There was a large Brach’s candy sign over the cashier’s counter. The white, purple, and magenta sign with the small golden star over the “h” awakened delightful, good tasting thoughts in me. I hoped my mother and grandfather would buy me some candy before we left. I wanted chocolate covered raisins, but I would have settled for butterscotch disks or jellybeans. And I knew that the moment my tongue made eager contact with the sweet candy, I would instantly think of burning candles in red glass vessels cradled inside of clinging white nets. The nets embrace the flames and red glass tightly and perhaps forever, reminding me of flickering memories and distant dreams twinkling in the night sky.