Saturday, June 27, 2009

That Stuff We Used to Drink at Your Grandmother's House

I overheard that phrase when my daughter was on the telephone the other day. She tends to talk on speaker, in the room with me, so eavesdropping is almost mandatory. In fact, it's not unusual for her friends to ask whether they're on speaker and then address something to me. A couple of days ago, I just caught this reference to "that stuff we used to drink at your grandmother's house" from a girl who moved out of state two years ago. It turned out to be Ovaltine.

It made me smile. I could picture the girls, back in fourth and fifth grade, sitting in my mother's kitchen and drinking chocolate Ovaltine. It was funny that something so universal should be specifically associated in her mind with my mother's house. And I liked that this child, who's had a tough life since she moved away, had such clear memories of those days. But I was also reminded of a conversation with one of my childhood friends.

We were in our early thirties, at the grocery store together, when I spotted Necco wafers and reached back to grab them. She said she'd never had them. "Impossible," I scoffed. "There's no way that you were around my father all those years and never had a Necco wafer." I tried to describe them, to no avail. She'd never seen them, heard of them or tasted them.

Later that afternoon, I cracked open the roll and offered her one. A pink one. No sooner had she popped it into her mouth than her eyes widened. "We used to eat these in the convertible!" Indeed we had, a full three decades earlier, sitting up on the back of the backseat in the years before common sense and seatbelt laws. It wasn't the only conversation we had like that, either. One lazy summer Sunday morning as we contemplated brunch she asked, "Do you know how to make those eggs?"

And I said, "yes". With no elaboration, at least 25 years after we'd last eaten them together--and as far as I could recall, we'd never discussed them before--I knew that she was talking about the fluffy baked omelette with deviled ham inside that my father had made when we were children.

It made me think about the way we're forming memories in all of the little, seemingly meaningless things we do with our children, or that they do themselves. I'm sure that my friend never sat at my parents' table and thought "I'll remember these eggs for the rest of my life." My daughter and her friends just drifted through the days, carefree and taking each moment as it came, like children should. Did they know that the day they tangled themselves up in yarn in the front yard would stick in their minds for years to come? That my daughter would know years later what song they had on repeat the day they sat on lawn chairs on the back patio and read Girl's Life together?

I suspect not. Yet somehow, it's these ordinary pieces that form our lives, our memories, and our relationships. And in a way, that's a relief--because it's easy, as a parent, to get caught up in trying to make memories. It turns out, they take care of themselves while we're just living everyday lives.

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