Saturday, June 1, 2013

Memory, and the Peonies

(I'm about to embark on NaBloPoMo again, and this month's theme is "Roots"; oddly enough, the post I had brewing for today was about things that grow.  Perhaps it was destiny after all.)

It's funny how one little thing can trigger the smallest details of memory.  For me, this week, it was the peonies.

They are everywhere.  Big, fluffy, pink and white, raucous and extravagant.  They remind me of the barbecue we had here at our house, back before my world split open.

It was a hazy day in July.  We had told people to bring lawn chairs; we'd planned to sit in the back yard and grill.  Except that the temperature was in the nineties, and the humidity near one hundred percent.  The simple act of walking outside left you drenched in sweat.

Photo courtesy of flickr user ballookey
under creative commons license

K. arrived with her dog L., her husband, and the pink peonies.  She probably brought a bottle of wine, too, but the flowers are what I remember: full, bold, beautiful, risk-takers, like she was.  Like she is.  She presented them to me with her broad, winning smile; they were prizes from her garden.  She was wearing a hat that I associated with civilized people in the English countryside out for a day at the races and a picnic lunch.  She and her husband and a former boss sat in the back room, on a piano bench and on the floor and on the bed, cuddling with L. and discussing philosophy.

My husband braved the heat to stand over the grill and manhandle jerk chicken.  My former boss's husband kept him company.  I fussed over the food, sure there wasn't going to be enough, worried that it wasn't impressive enough, but everyone made do, and enjoyed themselves despite the fact that we were all stuck inside a house that was too small for the party, cocooning ourselves in this small oasis of cool. 

M. and H. came, and sat on the floor in my living room, played with my then three?-year-old son.  Legos, maybe?  Or something less advanced?  I remember thinking that they would make such fabulous parents some day.  And now they are.

B. had come with tarts, which he informed us, with pride, were made the right way, with lard.  Cherry, I think.  The tarts, not the lard, of course.  And homemade sorbet, perhaps?  Yes, raspberry and lime sorbet.  He was technically the reason we had found each other, the one who had gathered us together, assembled his team.  His philosophy, he'd always said, was to surround himself with smart people, and let them do what they do best.

That sweltering day in July, I felt like we were pioneers, a small group of people who were going to change the world, who could really transform higher education together from our little lifeboat. 

It seems hardly believable now that we'd ever had that party, that those people were ever in my house together, that we were so naive and optimistic.  And yet, there were the peonies.  Something concrete, fragrant.  They lasted for days, delicate though they were.

What are some of the triggers of your most detailed memories?  The ones that don't seem possible otherwise?
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  1. Wow. Talk about evocative.

    I believe the sight of a peony from now on will make me remember this post and your July gathering before the change.

  2. Just Beautiful J.

    Magnolia trees, along with tulips and daffodils blooming in the spring trigger memories of Molly and our journey with her, as they were in bloom around the time she was born and died in April 2008.

    Music also triggers a lot of memories for me. For many summers as a young adult I worked at residential and day camps. Every year there seemed to be a "song of the summer." Every time I her "Tennesse" by Arrested Development, "Waterfalls" by TLC or the Fugees version of "Killing Me Softly" I go right back to those summer days and nights at camp with old friends and campers.

    There are so many other songs that also trigger memories, as well as foods/tastes and driving by nostalgic places when I am in my hometown or visiting the places my grandparents retired to before they died.

    Thank you for sharing and inspiring this trip down my memory lane. xoxo


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