Inside of my mind there are two kinds of memories. The first kind is the kind you thought about immediately when you read the word memories. It’s the visual kind, the recorder, containing images and sounds from life that can be played back at will. The second kind is the memory of feeling. This is memory not only of fact but of sensation. The best comparison I can think of is remembrance of a sweet or horrifying dream. Remembering the actual content of the dream is usually difficult, but what is easy is remembering the feeling of yearning or dread that overwhelmed you right when your eyes first opened and the mirage disappeared yet lingered. That moment, between waking and wakefulness, contains the memory of feeling.
The school supply section of Target sounds like an odd place for the memory of feeling to yet again overtake someone. But that’s exactly what happened a few days ago. My love is embarking on her junior year in college, a place I have triumphantly avoided since graduating debt-free last May. We made a stop in the sizable corner that Target dedicates every August to back to school supplies. She needed a binder and notebook. I needed no such amenities, yet if I remember correctly, I believe I lingered a little longer in that corner than she did. Something about where I was returned to my mind an achingly familiar sensation of the innocence, regularity and anticipation of childhood. What I was experiencing was not visual replay of days gone by, but a recollection of spirit.
I sensed that I was yet again in middle or high school, with a life neither dull nor particularly interesting. With a heart full of remarkably unremarkable summer memories I would walk with my mother as we purchased paper and pencils. Mom was kind enough never to ask me whether I had either of these items left over from last year, probably because she knew the answer was yes. In this moment, in the last days of August, frugality gave way to ritual. It was more important that we welcome autumn than save five dollars. I would pick out a large notebook that looked very grown up and ordinary pens that looked like they belonged to someone whose life was so important that they didn’t care about their pens. Mechanical pencils for me, thanks; sharpening a #2 is so 5th grade.
The newest Harry Potter book is on sale. I’m curious but not curious enough to risk an awkward conversation with Mom, who raised me not to be a warlock. Also on sale is a Matchbox Twenty album. Mom and Dad don’t know that I’ve been sneaking downstairs at 8AM to listen to an “Adult Contemporary” FM station. It’s not that I don’t like Christian contemporary music anymore, it’s just that “If You’re Gone” is such a sweet, sad acoustic song, sufficiently saccharine to provide soundtrack to this past summer’s crushes and daydreams. While we’re in the electronics department, I wonder how any human being can pay $60 for a new video game; that’s like half a birthday haul. I hope my parents are glad I still love N64 and are thankful for a son who appreciates the simple things.
I shoot my head the other way as we walk past the bras, being sure to do so quickly so Mom doesn’t have to tell me to. Unfortunately I was too busy remaining pure to notice where we are heading. I actually don’t mind shopping for clothes, but my Mom insists on trying things on, which is of course completely pointless if you can return whatever doesn’t fit. She’s about to ask me what I need, which is a very clever question, since if I say “nothing” she knows I just don’t want to try on, and if I actually admit I could use new jeans, I can kiss my evening goodbye. I can’t wait until I’m old enough to not buy clothes.
Mom asks if I want an Icee. Of course. She wants one too so I get a ten dollar bill and am sternly warned to produce change. We’re sitting together, chatting about our purchases and our day, sipping red Icee and reflecting on another good summer come and gone. She lets me know we might be visiting cousins in a couple weeks. I don’t have any practical response to that news except anticipation, but Mom knows I like to get a heads up all the same.
In line to check out, I fight and win a battle to not look at the fashion magazines, thus securing a good night’s sleep. In the parking lot I scare Mom by putting my feet on the metal base of the buggy as it glides down a small slope. Not bad, but I’m pretty sure buggies used to go faster than that. They must have puts mothers in charge of buggy design now. Now I’m just thinking of getting home, watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with the family, and maybe calling up my buddy to plan coming over tomorrow. He might be on the internet, but he has two phone lines now, so the call should go through.
I’m drowsy during the drive home. Mom smiles and says car rides have lulled me ever since I was a newborn. I perk up when we come within sight of the house, high atop a steep hill and across my Dad’s church. The house is called a “parsonage,” which apparently means the place the pastor is supposed to live. It’s a small house but with a large basement, which is where my Dad will probably be, studying for Sunday in his homemade office. My sisters will be watching TV, where I will join them as soon as I help Mom with the bags. Home.
Now I’m back in Target, not 13 but 25, not with Mom but Emily. She says she’s got what she needs and we can go. I smile to myself, grateful to God that He gives me a life that I not only can live, but reflect on. I turn to Emily: “Can you believe it’s September?” “I know,” she agrees. “Where did the summer go?” I nod, but I actually know the answer to that question, because it’s the same place that the last 12 summers have all gone. They’re gone, yes, but they leave a fragrance behind, and ever and anon I will catch the scent.