We recently passed through a tiny town close by to where I grew up. I had a memory haunting me. My husband, being the accommodating kind of guy he is, urged me to explore it.
I’d been about twelve. It was an impromptu family outing, an after-dinner excursion for a drink. My dad, the door-to-door home-improvement salesman, knew folks from miles around, from all different walks of life. He took us to a pub in the tiny town of Montgomery, N.Y. – a place where a client/friend/acquaintance of his owned a bar.
Take your pre-teenage kids to a bar? My dad was fine with that. After all, my two older brothers, ten and twelve years older than me, were of plenty legal enough age to drink.
Why I remember this evening so clearly, I will never know. Perhaps because it was such a special time, one where my three siblings and my parents convened and laughed and enjoyed a time when someone wasn’t complaining about something, or when my mother wasn’t running frantically between kitchen and dining room trying to make sure everything was absolutely perfect. No matter. The evening stands out in my memory as an icon of family. One I will never forget.
So now it's forty-odd years later. My husband and I drove into the tiny burg, where only three or four cross streets intersecting with the major routes defined the “city.”
“Here,” I said, pointing. “I’m sure the pub was on this street, just one over from the main drag.”
We turned onto the narrow street on this rather dismal February day. Cold? Oh yeah. The snow piling up on either side of the barely more than single-lane thoroughfare obliterated the sidewalks in most places. My husband managed to find a parking space on one of the larger establishment’s real estate, and we got out.
“Is this the place? It says it was a hotel,” he asked.
I honestly couldn’t remember. After so many years? How could I possibly have remembered?
My husband doesn’t drink alcohol. But the dear soul sat beside me in first one, then two of the bars on that street, nursing tap brews that to him, I’m sure, tasted like cat pee.
“Is this the place?” he asked repeatedly.
I gazed around me at the modern art paintings, the dark umber painted walls, the modern drop lighting. I shook my head.
“If this is the place,” I said, “it just doesn’t look the same.”
I never did find the pub where I sat with my family at a round table with neon signs lighting the space with multicolored wonder. Where the waitress, when asked what was on tap, answered, “Schlitz, Schmitz, or Schaeffer.” The place where my impishly grinning father asked her to repeat those three choices – fast. The memory – that magical moment – is gone forever.
Sometimes, it’s better not to go chasing phantoms from our past. Sometimes, they’re better the way we remember them – in a form that cannot be changed by time.