Tossing Peaches, Holding Memories

Saturday, April 30, 2011 / 5:26 PM

Day 24 of that "30-Day Letter Challenge" (I told you I was slow with it): "The person that gave you your favorite memory."

Bah. This is tough. I can't think of one favorite memory. My life has been made up of invaluable moments that I hold dear. I had this conversation recently with Alan recently about my "favorite college memory," and I don't think I have one. It was the same with leaving Loretto--I didn't have one favorite memory; I had many. Different things happened at different stages of my life that meant different things in those different moments. Does that make sense?

I was known as the photographer back in high school, documenting everything for everyone. "I'm afraid I'll forget it all someday," I said to someone once. When I look back at those photos now, I can barely remember some of those moments. In some photos, I remember the exact details of the minutes and seconds leading up to the shot; in others, I've forgotten why it was photo-worthy in the first place.

I guess if I were to think about it in a broader way, if I were to think about my "greatest hits" (as Lost would have it), I could think of things. There are moments that've meant a lot to me, though maybe they don't mean much to the person/people involved. There are memories I have that stand out to me, but I've always wondered to myself: how do other people feel about those moments too? Were they just as meaningful?

The obvious answer is: it doesn't matter. Whether the person who shared a day or evening with you remembers it as vividly as you do is moot because we all perceive moments differently. What's meaningful to you may not be meaningful to someone else, but the unique memory of it in your mind and the feelings it personally evoked are what make it special. It's how we classify favorites that others may not understand.

My favorite memory...

When Na and I were younger, Dad built a play structure for us out in the backyard. This was before our crazy neighbors moved in, back when "Uncle" Bill was living next door, and then Steve moved in after he left. It was when our lawn was fresh and we still had the apple pear tree. The combination of smells from those pears and our peach tree made spring and summer the most pleasant seasons of the year. It's in these seasons that the random patch of daffodils Dad could never figure out how to get rid of would bloom, and the zucchini in the garden would mutate into a giant after a week of too much Miracle-Gro.

On weekends, Na and I would sit on the plastic, banana yellow swings that hung side-by-side on the metal structure Dad put together one afternoon for Na's birthday. We would compete to see who could swing the highest. We would practice jumping off the swings, pretending like we were gymnasts trying to stick a perfect landing. We would sit on the swings and read our Animoprhs and Babysitter's Club books until the sprinklers would come on by accident and chase us away. We'd swing and swing, tilting our heads back to look at the bright blue sky and fight over whether the clouds were shaped like bunnies or dragons or pirate ships.

My childhood was spent in that backyard. Dad would barbecue on hot summer nights and we'd sit outside, eating our corn on the cob and enjoying the sunset. When night fell, we'd light tiki torches and lanterns and dance around the grass underneath the stars. We would jump up and down as airplanes flew over us, waving at the blinking light in the distance, pretending as if that blinking light meant the pilot could see us so far from the ground. After ice cream or fruits, Na and I would get back on those swings, and swing and swing as if it were daytime, but instead of imagining cloud shapes, we'd look for constellations.

And then we'd go to bed. Na and I would talk. Sometimes we'd listen to music, the volume on our boombox turned down real low so Mom couldn't hear. We'd listen to the crickets chipring in our backyard through the open screen from our bedroom. It was comfortable.

I took it for granted, because as the years passed and our neighborhood changed, we stopped going out to that backyard. The garden died. Dad got distracted and would forget to prune the trees. When the peaches fell, it become a chore to pick them up, and years would go by where we'd have no fresh fruit to share or enjoy. The play structure got rusty and the wooden benches I watched Dad build one afternoon rotted. And then we got busier and busier and nobody had the time or energy to take care of that backyard. We neglected it, and by the time we realized it, it was too late to fix it. So we just let it get worse.

Last winter break, I stepped outside to the backyard for the first time since leaving Sacramento--and I mean really stepped outside, because waffling near the side gate and poking at the plants is not the same. I walked outside to the patio where we used to have our barbecues and didn't recognize that backyard anymore. The grass was all dead. The Japanese maple was dulled. There was no more apple pear tree and the peach tree looked as if it would collapse under the weight of its branches. The backyard grew old, just like the rest of us as we age. But that's the wonderful thing about memories: those never grow old. And that's why I still remember exactly what it felt like to be a child in that yard. Despite what it is now and what we let it become, it will always be something I loved.

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