Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Muscle Memory

This morning, I had a craving for doughnuts...I haven't had one in....who knows?...a long, long time. Justin grabbed a bag at the general store, and the first bite sent me on a tailspin to Instant Nostalgia Land. Gram and Gramp Shepard's house. Where there was always one of those big, thick, glass jars on the kitchen counter, full of home-made doughnuts...even after Gram's mind started slipping and she was eating flour by the handful, not to mention cat food, on occasion...the doughnut jar remained full, at all times. I wonder sometimes, how she managed to make them still, without hurting herself, or having them taste awful, in the very least, but I suppose it was simply muscle memory. She had ALWAYS made us those doughnuts, and BY-GOD, she always would.

It's funny, I can go quite a while without thinking a lot about, or missing terribly, some of my departed loved ones. Gram and Gramp Shepard, I am reminded of every time we drive by their place, which is pretty much daily. When we pass that big, old, peeling Catholic church, my eyes are automatically drawn up the bank to the black and white house with the Adirondack chairs out front. In my mind, I can still see the blue canvas hammock, fringed and faded, on the lawn, Gramp smoking his pipe near the lamp post, humming tunelessly to himself, Gram in her cat-eye glasses, one of those thin, cotton, flowered dresses with the big pockets and her hair curled impeccably.

If I CLOSE my eyes, I can smell them, smoke and cinnamon and furniture polish, musty collector's editions of Reader's Digest. Hear the clocks chiming, so many, all at once, hour on the hour, a heady, confusing medley. I can imagine myself small again, snooping through Gramp's workshop, full of gears, and brass pendulums, and fancy clock hands. We would drag out the giant sack of blocks, smoothed to a satin finish by years of grand children's playtime, and spend hours riding the perpetually squeaky bouncy-horse. I remember peering into the mysterious upper bedrooms with chenille bedspreads, using the tiny half-bath up in the hall...the one papered in newsprint, those longhorns hanging in the living room, the curio cabinet full of Currier and Ives dishware, the slanting screen-porch off the kitchen, it's steps leading down into what I thought was the real and true 'Secret Garden' all tucked and hidden in a nook on the steep hillside. I recall how I loved curling up next to the fireplace with that big book of Norman Rockwell prints. Gram served us juice out of cups that Welch's Jelly used to come in, the ones with Tom and Jerry printed on the sides, and every dinner included a side of instant mashed potatoes. Every single one. Gram's voice scolding, "EARL!" rings clear, as if she's right here next to me, and Gramp's pleasant, garbled grumble as we tickled his ears while he dozed in his chair, or after he teasingly prodded us with his cane, "Get along, you Scallywags."

I have never yet, all these years later, gone by their house without my head turning, and involuntarily lapsing into a quick trip to the past. Gramp's out there, feeding chipmunks from his hand, or calling to Joe, his mangy mutt, he must be. I have to stop myself from pulling in, just so I can sit on the front step for a minute. Muscle memory. I sigh and drive on.

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