Friday, November 29, 2013

Making Memories

When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s I went to see a friend of mine, Steve, a counselor, to talk about what I was dealing with. He encouraged me to worry less about losing my memory, which I was sorely afraid of, and to instead focus on making new memories for myself.   Later on I had breakfast with the pastor at our church.  Mr. Grevlos expanded on that idea.  He said, “Maybe what you want to do is not just make new memories for yourself but make them for other people too.  There is joy to be found in that.”

I went home and started working in the garage studio.  Matthew, my middle son, 18 now and so tall, came home from school.  He talked for a minute and then went inside.  I remembered the day when we first left him on his own.  Karen had to do an errand and I was coming home from the train. On the bus from the station to our house, as I got close, I called him.  I told him to meet me at the convenient store on the corner and we’d get a snack.  As I got off the bus I saw this little kid in shorts and a t-shirt running up the sidewalk barefoot, a big smile on his face.  He threw himself in my arms.  We went into the store and got slushies.  We sat on the hill in the park across the street and talked. It is one of my favorite memories, and he says it is one of his too.  As he goes off to his next adventure, I hope he always remembers that summer evening when we did that.

It is the Thanksgiving holiday and Ben, my oldest, is home from the city for a few days. I asked him last night after the feast if he had any good memories.  He said, “Every time you were there and you talked to me, Dad.”  I felt regret that I missed a lot of his life. He smiled, “You were there when I needed you and that’s what I will remember. I like that you’re here all of the time now and I can still call you when I need you.”  I felt a whole lot better.

Tomorrow, Saturday, Meredith and I will go out and repeat our holiday tradition.  She is sixteen now but ever since she was five or so we would get in the van or SUV and go do our version of Christmas shopping.  We first go to Taco Bell.  She gets her usual vegetarian meal, rice and beans, and I get three tacos and a tostado if they have them. Then we head up to the home improvement store to buy ourselves a Christmas tree.  We always know exactly what kind we want.  It must be a fir and tall, but not too tall, where I have to cut it down.  When we get it into the car, Meredith always declares that this tree is “the best Christmas tree ever!”  She then proceeds to name the tree.  One year it was Fern, then Fred, then Mary.  It has already been decided that this year’s tree will be named Eloise.

I hope someday when Meredith is a mother she will tell her children about our tradition and will keep it up with her kids.

As I write this Matthew is working, Ben is sleeping and the girls have gone out to do some quick shopping.  Later today I will pull the boxes of lights out of the attic so I can hang them from the bushes and trees on the first day my hands won’t fall off from the cold.

Christmas was always my father's favorite holiday.  Every year Garl would decorate the house. He would watch every version of a Christmas Carol available. I once caught him watching the Magoo take on it. I asked him "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm watching television. I think it is a good one and it really shows Magoo's range as an actor."  On Christmas Eve, after church, we would have all of the neighbors over for a bit of cheer.  My father wore his plaid Christmas vest and you could tell he was so happy. I will always remember that.  

We have our own Christmas Eve tradition.  We go to church, place an order, and then go look at the best lights in town until our Chinese food is ready.  I remember one year Christmas Eve fell on a Monday and our usual place on the corner, Yen Ching, was closed.  Meredith and I drove all over town to find another place because it just wasn't Christmas Eve without Chinese food.

This Christmas will be a little different. Ben is going to San Francisco to be with his girlfriend’s parents for awhile. He’ll be back for the holiday and that is good. Zayn will be here but I don’t know if Steve will be or not. I have a lot of fictive sons who are usually here but as they get older they have other places to go. I miss them all. 

I feel fortunate that a couple of nights ago my boys asked me to come spend the night in the city with them and to attend some parties.  They were all there, Ben, Matthew, Steve, Austin, Zayn and Graham.  We had a raucous time, hanging out in Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville. When Karen and I had our house in Roscoe Village we loved it. We never wanted to leave the city, but it was the right time and the right choice.  In a single night with my boys we made a lot of good memories. I got to see the cityscape at night, beautiful buildings next to squalor. I got to cross against traffic and to stand on back porches and fire escapes talking to bright young people about books, music and art. I felt like I was home again.

It is fun being the dad of a bunch of college kids. It is nice that they take good care of me and not the other way around.  I am so proud of these boys who I have known so long.

I think the process of making memories is not something you can do intentionally.  I actually think that spoils it.  Making memories comes from spontaneous moments that bubble up and you grab and hold in your heart forever.  The nice thing about the whole affair is that if you leave yourself open, you never know when the next one might come around. I like the idea of waking up each morning and wondering to myself, “What memories will be made today?”