A sight, a sound, just a gesture, sparks fire of mind.
Right now I'm 18 years ago this summer.
Natalie Merchant has taken me there. She was singing "Stockton Gala Days" from a corner of the house, from back when she was with the group 10,000 Maniacs. My sister long ago had given us cassettes (yes, that long ago) of the group's "Our Time in Eden" and "In My Tribe" to hip us up a bit. (I know what you're gonna say; but one can't become hip in one step; we needed hand holding; and in 1994, 10,000 Maniacs were MTV-worthy. Though I've never been crazy about Natalie Merchant's dancing, or the way she sang off-key in live performances.)
(Good thing this is not about why I like this music and you should too. I'll never write a post like that. Probably.)
"Our Time in Eden" literally became our soundtrack for a family trip into the Idaho panhandle, for one last visit to my grandma near Spokane, Wash. before she passed, and across Washington all the way around the Olympic Peninsula and south along the Pacific Coast through Oregon on the way back home to Sacramento. We played that tape so much I'm sure we broke it.
When Natalie began "That summer fields grew high, with foxglove stalks and ivy …" or whatever the heck she was singing (it presents a grammar problem right away, and we never paid close enough attention to the fact that sometimes 10,000 Maniacs lyrics were often either morose laments paired with happy-go-lucky music, or were words written more to fit a beat than make much sense), I returned immediately to the wheat plains of central Washington, on our way to Lake Wenatchee, quiet among the mountains.
Could we, we'd still be there, suspended in time, watching our four-year-old son stand atop a boulder near the shore, posing as a superhero in his underwear, and our two-year-old daughter devouring a Washington peach nearly as big as her head.
(Carter's, the infants' clothes company had a slogan, "If they could just stay little 'til their Carter's wear out," which remains with me. Never bought the clothes, but never forgot the poignancy of that sentiment. This was a time before school and scouting and sports and all those daily dilemmas that, though necessary, I suppose, only made that breathtakingly brief time with our kids as wee ones all the more precious.)
We listen happily to "Jezebel," a rousing tune about a marriage tearing apart, as we fly west down Highway 2. Most of the gas stations en route to the Washington coast have new banners promoting espresso. We had no idea what that was, no idea that Starbucks was just beginning to spread its caffeinated tentacles across the land. The closer we got to Seattle, the more frequent the banners. Before we left the Olympic Peninsula, we were coffee junkies.
(The best coffee we ever had, out of all those Puget Sound mocha meccas, by the way, came from a pedal cart as a guy pushed his mobile business between the looooong lines of cars and their captive inhabitants, waiting, waiting, waiting to catch a ferry across to the peninsula. Go figure.)
When Natalie tries to coax someone out of deep depression in the danceable "If You Intend," I'm walking around neighborhoods of Aberdeen, Wash. (where Kurt Cobain was from), making sure not to go near the hospital that was treating our daughter for what we learned was called nursemaid's elbow.
In pulling our stubborn daughter up from a beach she did not want to leave, I had dislocated her elbow. She didn't cry; she just wouldn't use her arm anymore. In fact, it was because she wasn't crying that we did a doubletake (she wouldn't like us to say, but she was a tantrum princess in her time). In a panic, we brought her into to the nearest hospital, and we decided I'd bide my time out on the streets so some clinician wouldn't turn the incident into a child protective services issue.
Not all the memories of our 1,000-mile journey are good, you notice, but I wouldn't trade them. It was one of those trips that made us want to chuck all we had and reinvent ourselves at every stop, just make things up as we went along, the four of us and our balky chipped-paint Plymouth Voyager minivan.
All it takes is the distant gargly warble of Natalie Merchant, with her silly dance, and I'm there.
These are days you'll remember.
Never before and never since, I promise,
Will the whole world be warm as this.