Memory chads

I suppose I’m now at an age when most things are in my past. What lies ahead may well be worthy of remembering, but how much of it will actually be stored in a useable form? How can I be sure I will remember more than disjointed, evanescent, and ever-changing fragments of it? I’m beginning to think that I’d be well advised to write a memoir while the memories are still harvestable.

Not that I have lived a life full of epic voyages, or steamy jungles -steamy anything, for that matter; I have never suffered much privation; even during the Covid pandemic I have been rather coddled, living as I do on a well-forested island… So, why do I think I have anything valuable to contribute to the reams of verbiage already clogging up the digital world like an overflowing sink? Is every life a story we would like to read? Is mine…?

No, actually; a small plaque with my name on it would do, I guess, but I think that those of us with long, and well-filled lives, hope for more: something that our children can point to and sigh as they store it in a dusty attic in case their children ever ask. At least, that’s what Eric kept telling us each time a group of us met for coffee.

“It’s sad that it’s come to this,” he’d start when the four of us sat staring at our doughnuts and coffees each Wednesday morning at the Food Court. We were all retired, all wrinkled and most of us were dressed in faded shirts with fraying collars and missing buttons –old, in other words. Eric, however, refused the mould; he was inevitably dressed in new-looking clothes he’d found at Value Village, and always took off his glasses when he saw us coming. “You’re all dumbing-down,” he would say, shaking his head at the way we leaned our elbows on the table and gabbled at each other with full and slowly chewing mouths. “Why do you think everybody in the Food Court rolls their eyes whenever we sit down together?”

I think we were all so happy that we had someone to talk to and we couldn’t wait to say it. Manners were what we’d taught our kids; it was not up to Eric to decide if we were in breach of them.

Arvid sighed at Eric’s insistence that we were disappointing him. “Dumbing down? Don’t you think we’ve earned the right to act old after all these years?”

Eric shook his head more forcefully now. “You don’t understand, Arv,” he answered, with a little shrug. “I’m referring to the things we’re talking about -our stories– not whether or not we dress in worn out clothes and ply each other with banalities.”

“Coulda fooled me,” Jamie said, through a half-chewed doughnut in his mouth and already sporting a new coffee stain on his aging shirt.

Eric continued to shake his head as if he was mixing something; I wondered if he ever felt dizzy doing that.

But Arvid sounded interested. “What stories, Er?” he asked, taking a little bite from a doughnut he’d been saving. “Do you mean the excuses, we come up with for our wives or whoever?”

Eric had a quick sip of his coffee and then put it down in front of him. He risked a quick smile. “Our lives are stories, don’t you think? Each of us has a different one… Many stories, actually.”

It was Jamie’s turn to shake his head. “Why would we have any stories, Eric? We just live our lives from day to day. Sometimes there’s a vacation, sometimes a promotion, but nothing anybody else would want to read about…” After a life as an accountant, I think the metaphor was lost on Jamie. I sometimes even wondered what he talked about at home with his wife.

Arvid smiled. “I once got lost in the dense forest on the west coast when I was young…” he started, and we all stopped talking and looked at him. “I was hiking with my girlfriend and had just gone into the bush to relieve myself, and I guess I got turned around or something. I hadn’t realized the salal would be so thick and hard to get through, and I’d bushwhacked a fair way into it so she couldn’t see me -there was no path once you left the shoreline. Anyway, after a few minutes she got worried and apparently started to call my name, but I couldn’t hear her over the sound of the waves…”

That captured Jamie’s interest. “So what did you do?”

Arvid turned red and had another bite of his doughnut. “You mean after we made love, or…”

It was Jamie’s turn to blush, and he was quick to shake his head. “No, no… I mean were you lost for long…?”

“Well, it seemed like hours that I was fighting my way through the undergrowth… She only found me by chance, I think.”

“So, why didn’t she get lost if the woods were so dense?”

Arvid’s eyes twinkled. “She tore off bits of her sleeve and tied them to the bushes to mark her trail.”

Jamie’s eyes opened wide. “Wow..!” He immediately took a large bite out of what was left of his doughnut and shook his head in amazement. The chewing must have stirred up some of his own memories, because he started to talk with crumbs still clinging to his lips. “I remember going into a restaurant in France with my wife one time,” he said, and had a quick sip of coffee before the memory slipped away. “I’d ordered a carré d’agneau… a rack of lamb,” he added when he saw the confusion on our faces. “Anyway, when the meal came, the pieces were tiny, and despite their attempts to garnish up the plate, it seemed far too small for the price.” He sighed at the memory. “Anyway, I mentioned this to the waiter, and he shrugged and went away somewhere. My wife and I finished off the wine and I have to admit that by then I was feeling quite full after eating the salad, and I understood why the portions they’d served had been so small.”

He looked around the table at us with an embarrassed grin. “But then the waiter came back followed by the angry looking chef who was carrying a huge plate of lamb. He placed the new plate in front of me and he and the waiter stood beside me to watch…” Jamie had another sip of his coffee. “I had to eat it, obviously… All of it, while they smirked and winked at my wife then elbowed each other.” He put the doughnut he’d been holding back on the plate. “I was so full, I threw up on the street when we left and to this day I won’t eat lamb…”

We all smiled, and Eric actually applauded. “Still think our lives aren’t a collection of stories, Jamie?” he said, winking at me for some reason.

Jamie grinned from ear to ear and suddenly noticed the discrepancy of buttons on the shirt he’d chosen for the day. “Don’t ask,” he said shrugging and pulling his jacket over the anomalies. “I’d be talking all morning.”

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