Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cool Evenings, Long Memories

Sometimes lately, I'll encounter a color or a pattern or a shade of sunlight and be suddenly thrown back into a feeling I've had in another time and another place. These little trips are becoming so strong that they're overwhelming my sense of the present and I feel for a moment that I'm not where I thought I was; kind of like a powerful deja vu only in full reverse.

Tonight the light in the sky was a pale yellow that reminded me somehow of the color of the crust of a cooked pie or an unfrosted cake. There was a cool breeze as I walked through Church Square Park that made the boughs on the trees sway and creek and the light filtered through the still green leaves and mixed with shadows on the ground.  

Someone was baking too. It may have been one of the many food shops around the park, but there was the sweet scent of baking apples. I took a deep breath of that heavenly smell before it was driven away or muted by the smell of gasoline from a noisy leaf blower. 

I was gone. 

"Here's the key. Gates across the way. You can't miss the pile. Joe may be out there," she said to me. I never knew her name, though I saw her a hundred times each fall. She was standing behind a counter in a white baker's apron with pies and home baked goods all around her. She had brown hair and the skin on her face was wonderfully crinkled by laughter and time in the New England weather. 

It was the end of one of the many days working as a landscaper in graduate school. I was tired. I felt all the muscles in my body ache. I had driven my small pickup out to the farm in Walpole that had the cheapest rate for dropping of cut grass or leaves or debris - $5 a truckload (no matter how much I stuffed it). 

The field where I dropped of the debris was behind a locked gate on one side of the road. The little farm bakery and cafe with the key and the cash register was on the other. 

"Thanks," I think was all I ever said to her; though I was lonely back then and wanted to talk sometimes. I wanted to stop and buy a hot cider or a slice of pie, but my second job or my studies were always there to keep the trip short and to the point. 

Still I often stopped in the field as I pitched the debris from my truck or trailer to look at the fading yellow of the sky as it dwindled into a deeper orange or a rich purple at the end of a day at the end of September. I'd take in the smell of the baking above the smell of the gasoline on my hands and the acrid smell of the cut grass. 

"Pretty day," sometimes the man who worked the tractor would stop to say a word or share the view - he was probably lonely too. Outdoor work can be wonderful, but there are many hours alone, "Be getting cold soon."

"Yup," I think I said. 

I'd pack the truck back up and head out and drive home in the growing dark of evening. A shower and a bite and I'd be off again. 

"Dave," came a call over my shoulder.

And then I was back again. Before I reached my house tonight I was back again. 

"Dave," came the call again, a little louder. I must have looked bewildered. 

It was my older neighbor from across the street, taking the air and waving through the screen door. 

"Hi ya," I said and waved back thinking, "Wow, was I out of it."

I popped through my own screen door and out of the street. I felt like I'd just descended rapidly from some high place, or taken a sudden dive into deep water. 

"Whoa," I thought. 

Some memories are so strong, that sometimes I feel like they'll un-tether me from my place and pull me back. Sometimes I think those memories do cut me loose and I've just been returning to some later point in my life again and again like people who go in circles when they're lost - who would ever know?  

This is, of course, ridiculous. There's too much of my physical self to make that leap (more apple pie please), and it's only a memory however strong. 

I suspect too, that these trips are a kind of escape that my brain is engineering for me out of some of the difficulties of the last year and a half. That the little grey cells are taking me from a very busy, crowded and complex time to something that feels less complicated - a kind of fake out. Who knows? 

I wonder also if my kids are doing this to me; firing up those old memories with their cute ways - or simply just driving me crazy.

I suppose there is no answer. They seem harmless enough, these trips, and I'm never gone for long, so I suppose I'll just try to enjoy the ride. 

For the present I'm back.  

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