You never know what will trigger a memory

This Side Up


Ever wonder how an item, a word, an expression, even the clouds on a clear sun-lit day can serve as a key to unlock memories? They’re triggers. You find yourself thinking, “I’ve seen this before … I know what it is … I’ve felt this” and then suddenly, like finding a piece for a jigsaw puzzle, it fits. The picture is complete.

They’re connectors.

Often our thinking is linear. Time is like a line, progressing from one point to another. The voyage is marked by dates and occasions – births, graduations, weddings, trips, good times and, yes, tragedies – and, too, people, places and things. Sometimes all it takes is a date. It could be as personal as the day you meet your future spouse or as universal as 9/11.

The memories flood back. It is as if you were there.

In the case of 9/11, I can see – for that matter, hear the voice of our retired receptionist, Sharon Robertson – as the office congregated to watch the smoking Twin Towers on television. And, for me, when we get a perfect fall day, the air still and filled with the lingering bouquet of summer, that day flashes back.

I found myself pondering the connections to memories all because of a small piece of plastic. It was not something I was looking for, or for that matter, I had missed. But what it is and its purpose offer so many parallels that its discovery seems to be more than coincidence.

On a recent Sunday, one when it wasn’t threatening to snow and it was actually above freezing – remember those? – Carol and I thought it would be fun to take a walk with Ted and his family and maybe grab a pizza for dinner. Our thought was to meet at the property in North Kingstown where Ted plans to build a house someday. It was a spur of the moment thing so I wasn’t surprised when Ted said he, Erica and the twins had plans.

“Go ahead, dad, we don’t need to be there,” he urged.

Why not, I thought.

“If we do go, I’ll call and swing by the house if you’re there,” I said.

It was not much of a plan but enough for us to get Ollie in the car and drive south. We weren’t the only ones with cabin fever. Route 4 was packed. You would have thought it was the first day the beaches were open.

Once off the highway we had the road to ourselves, which was a good thing. Snow banks were retreating, but it was still a tight fit for two cars. Fortunately, when we got to the property there was enough space to pull the off the road.

Ollie was excited with the prospect of so many things to sniff. He strained on the leash, crunching through the snow until we reached that section of the path un-shaded by trees and with low shrubs on both sides. The earth was soft, and ahead a couple of robins took flight to find cover. The nearby pond was frozen, yet there was the feel of spring. It was invigorating.

It wasn’t a long walk and as we turned back, Ollie tugging anxiously for the next scent, I looked down. There it was, imbedded in the dirt in front of my foot. Instantly I recognized the plastic and rubber fitting, not bigger than a postage stamp that slides around the viewfinder to my camera. It has been missing for months.

I picked it up as casually as if it had been pulled off the camera seconds before. I pocketed it and we continued back to the car. I coincidentally mentioned it to Carol when we got back to the car. She was amazed.

We called Ted and no one answered, so we headed home. After all, it was time for Ollie’s dinner and he wasn’t going to let us forget. A day or two later, Ted was on the phone and I told him what I’d found.

“That must have been when we went fishing,” he said.

The switch in my mind clicked, projecting the summer day when we met at the property and tried our luck fly-fishing the pond. I placed the camera on the ground as we rigged our rods. We got off a dozen casts between us. The shoreline brush was thick and with trees behind us, most of the time was spent pulling line from branches. Instead of fishing, we talked.

Why, I wondered, had I not thought of that day when I found the eyepiece and yet Ted did? Instead, I was focused on the probability of stopping and looking down at just the right time. It had me amazed that I should discover something that small. Was there some meaning?

I realize this is simplistic, but memories and time are not lines. More appropriate, they are like three-dimension circuit boards with multi-levels of connectivity. It’s intriguing that not only so many doors can open, but that we have the power to do that with others.

I wouldn’t have thought a camera eyepiece could provide such focus to a summer afternoon spent talking and letting the fish be fish … if they were there. The memory was a better catch.


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