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My View: Simple things unleash memories of loved ones

By Sandy Barton

It happened again today. One seemingly random hymn unleashed a flood of emotions.

Anyone who knows me well would agree that it doesn’t take much for me to get blurry-eyed with tears – it could be a Hallmark commercial, a TV program that features dropping a child off at college, a reunion at the airport, a video chat with my grandchildren, a surprise visit from family … the list goes on. I cry easily.

Recently, however, I have been forced to pay attention to the profound power of single triggers. These innocent moments can somehow pry open the layers of life experiences that have been packed away in the recesses of my mind.

Suddenly, without warning, like a thin ray of sunshine piercing through an otherwise cloudy sky, a memory surfaces. It appears out of nowhere, dances around, and sits on my shoulder, reminding me of a time, a place, a moment, a person.

There is a certain song in church that I simply cannot get through. It makes no difference if we’ve just been laughing or listening, sharing the peace or hearing announcements. The organist plays the first note and immediately I feel the tears welling up inside.

Hard as I try, when I hear this song, I can’t keep the memory of my dad from making its way through the clutter of my mind, and lingering as I try to sing. Usually I have to give in and just welcome the salty tears.

Or, it happens when I’m walking through a crowd on the street and I smell French toast – the brand of my grandpa’s favorite pipe tobacco. It’s been years and years since I actually saw him carefully pack the tobacco into the bowl of his shiny pipe, hold the lighter to it and puff, puff, puff until a tiny ribbon of smoke escaped into the air.

On Sunday afternoons, I would sit in his leather chair watching the whole ritual, and wait for the first hint of French toast to reach my nose. And I wonder how many layers of memories that one had to pierce before it made its way to the surface.

Which brings me to another one. Who would ever dream that the sound of Tic Tacs shaking in their clear plastic container would immediately make me think of my mom, offering to share her stash of the tiny white mints with anyone within an arm’s reach?

It matters not where we might be, the sound signals the memory, the memory brings on the smile, and Mom continues to bring on the Tic Tacs.

If you take time to think about it, it’s not unusual that this happens. After all, what are we but a bunch of experiences? What is remarkable to me, though, is that the memories are not tangled up with monumental events. Rather, they reflect simple unremarkable moments in time, with people I love.

I suppose these “piercings through the clouds” act as a warning to pay attention, a tap on the shoulder from those who have passed, as well as from those we still have in our lives.

As I said, it happened again today. A song spurred a memory, a memory that danced around for four verses, and then vanished as the organ played the last note. And so it goes.

Memories so deeply imbedded seem to be lost forever, but they aren’t really. They’re just waiting for the perfect moment to dance. They are made of people and pets, of places and moments, that for one reason or another are worth keeping a space for.

I often wonder what will elicit a memory of me in the years to come – and what dance will I do.

Sandy Barton, the author of several books, appreciates layers of memories.
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