You never know what’s going to trigger a memory. For me this afternoon, it was strawberry ice cream. Not just any ice cream, but my Grandmother’s strawberry ice cream. I made a batch for our Norwegian cousins last week and finished it off today. It took me right back to sharing Independence Day with the Lukens clan in Seattle, when we hand-cranked a behemoth ice cream freezer for the better part of a day. (Of course, it’s a lot easier to make it with a little electric appliance I have now.)
It’s very frustrating for my Dad – any of us, really – not to be able to access memory on demand. With my Dad, it’s usually not that the memory is gone, it’s just not within reach when he wants it.
Instead, his memories seem to float up out of the depths like flotsam, submerge again, only to return again the next day. It’s as if a recirculating pump brings them back time and time again, until the pattern shifts and it’s a new set of memories that begins their rotation.
For the past month or so, Dad has been remembering me riding on his shoulders in the waves at Barber’s Point on Oahu. Dad was stationed at CINCPac in Honolulu, and I was five. I loved the water but I couldn’t swim, and Barber’s Point had a notorious riptide. The moment he remembers may have been the day before, even the day of, his massive heart attack. Back in the early 60s, no one knew if you would recover from a big cardiac event. At some point, it dawned on him that he could just as easily have had that heart attack while jouncing me in the waves. Perhaps that’s why that particular day is so firmly etched in his mind.
Sometimes I think his memories are things he’s trying to work through. He often asks me, “Do we have any business left?” It’s his way of asking if his affairs are in order, recognizing that he doesn’t have forever.
Not long after my mother died in 1999, he perserverated on the memory of my sister’s death from leukemia. He remembered her calling out to him, “Daddy, help me,” and his deep feeling of helplessness. During another period, it was the bloody beach on Iwo Jima. In recent months, many memories were of his father, with whom he did not have a warm relationship. He wonders why his father didn’t take him fishing or have the interest in him that my father had in his sons.
Listening to some of his memories breaks my heart. Others give me comfort, because I know that they bring him comfort. Like today, when he remembered my brother older Dean at about age five, hands on hips, waiting for him in the driveway when he came home from work. Dean was such a little man, even at that age. Dad smiled. And so did I.