“The only things that are important in life are the things you remember.”
~ Jean Renoir
A good friend of ours visited last weekend. My husband and Peter go all the way back to first grade. I met him when I was twenty-five and first started dating Rich. It was one of life’s odd coincidences. One night when we stopped by Pete’s parents’ house, I noticed the high school photos on the mantle above the fireplace and recognized him immediately. He lived down the hall from me my freshman year in college.
Peter lives in Orlando now and the drive to Boynton Beach is about two and a half hours, but when a round of golf with a life-long friend is involved distance is relative.
I was working Friday, tutoring a college freshman. My Tuesday boss thinks I’m semi-famous because I write for the Huffington Post, and despite the fact he is a staunch conservative and I am a bleeding heart liberal he thinks I am competent enough to guide his son through Creative Writing 101. I mainly ask him questions and try to keep him off his cell phone.
On the way home, I picked up some prepared food at Joseph’s Italian Market in Boca Raton where there is always a party going on. Free wine, free food, and music.
That night we dined on chicken francaise, penne alla vodka, and Caesar salad, while revisiting the shared stories that took place over the course of fifty years. I still can’t believe I can say something like that, or like this question I asked at dinner: “Do you remember Hilton Head twenty seven years ago?” Twenty seven years ago? How the hell did that happen?
It was so long ago Peter couldn’t remember the time we were together in South Carolina. He swore he was never there with us. I had photographic proof so I got up from the dinner table to search through the photo albums stacked in the closet in the guest bedroom.
We never figured out why Peter was on Hilton Head Island the week before Rich’s brother’s wedding, but there he was in the photos, joining in the pre-wedding festivities.
“You crashed the wedding party,” Rich said.
Peter was more amazed with his thirty year old self. “I look like a stud,” he said.
There were other photos through the years, including the time we attended a pulled pork festival in Dahlonega, Georgia. Peter couldn’t remember what he was doing there either. “I must have been driving through on my way to Tennessee,” was his best guess.
Memories tumble through your mind, out of sequence, some as clear as a blue sky day, others foggy and distorted. Shared memories often have different points of view.
“That was the night we saw the Allman Brothers.”
“No, it wasn’t. I never saw the Allman Brothers with you. You must be thinking of your old girlfriend.”
Saturday morning we hit the Delray Greenmarket, stopping along Atlantic Avenue for coffees then loading up at the booth where they sell chocolate croissants and fruit tarts.
Favorite foods trigger memories. A picnic of French bread, tomatoes, and Swiss cheese in Grindelwald with a view of the north face of the Eiger. My cousin Kathy and I always referred to it as one of the best meals we ever shared. A waterfront restaurant on St. Kitts with a view of Nevis the night of our twentieth wedding anniversary was by far the most romantic.
On the drive back from the Farmers’ Market, we passed the jerk chicken guys in front of the wicker and rattan furniture store. It may be All About Recliners most of the week, but on Saturdays it’s all about jerked chicken. Caesar’s BBQ is a real Mom and Pop business and the jerked chicken and ribs are authentic Jamaican food.
Which led us to a trip to Jamaica thirty years ago.
Peter was not with us that time. We traveled to Seven Mile Beach in Negril with friends of mine from Rhode Island. Three decades later it’s all a bit hazy. Rich and I remember different things and some of the same things differently.
There was the day the water wasn’t working in the beachfront motel so Rich showered under a drain spout when a torrential rainstorm passed across the island.
The little shack where we stopped for a case of Red Stripe on our drive out of Montego Bay.
And Da Bus.
We stumbled upon this place on a long walk down the beach. The smell of pimento wood and spices drew us in. They served Red Stripe and jerked chicken smoked all day long in large metal drums. That’s it. No menu.
The chef chopped the cooked chicken with a cleaver and served it on paper plates. I asked for a fork. “It’s a finger food, mon,” the dreadlocked waiter told me. To this day, we still use that term. A friend of ours likes to eat his chicken wings with a knife and a fork and we always tease him with that line, “It’s a finger food, mon.” When our daughters sat in their high chair mastering the art of picking up Cheerios with chubby baby fingers, we would laugh and say, “It’s a finger food, mon.”
Life Is All This, the novel I am about to publish, is much like this. Memories tumble through the decades, sometimes out of sequence. There is the cryptic lingo of family and friends, such as Rich’s opening line to our daughters when he sends a text message. “This your Fahtha.” He’s paraphrasing a line from The Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vader tells Luke Skywalker he’s his father. It is one of their favorite movies and the shared language evokes memories of snowy afternoons by the fireplace watching Star Wars marathons.
We all have memories that trigger the important stories of our lives. That is what Life Is All This is all about. Life, marriage, family, and friends. The story of a modern American family facing life’s hardships with hope, optimism, and humor while discovering that pain, loss, and distance can strengthen their love and enrich their lives.