Since Wednesday I’ve been back home visiting Mom at Beth Israel Hospital, the site of my birth. And, every day while here, I walk into and through memories of my past and childhood.
Some are triggered by people. While walking along Walnut Street yesterday with Jon, we saw Margot Lockwood, a statuesque white-haired matriarch of an Irish family whose father, Mr. Nyhan used to wear a black coat and tie, had Parkinson’s disease, and, propelled by the disease, ran around Griggs Park, occasionally grabbed hold of a tree in an attempt to stop himself.
Margot’s brother was David Nyhan, the late straight-talking columnist for the Boston Globe who wrote admiringly about John McCain’s 2000 presidential bid and whose scoring a touchdown for the other team at Harvard earned him the nickname, “Wrong Way Nyhan.”
I went to visit David at his office in 1990, seeking advice about writing. His counsel, like his speech, was direct: if you want to be a writer, write. A lot. David made the point that writing was not something that one could easily do after working a full day and cooking oneself a dinner of pork chops. He also emphasized time’s rapid passage, wrote a note of introduction to an editor at the Boston Globe Magazine, did a quick edit on a piece I had started about Becky Simpson and the Cranks Creek Survival Center and sent me on my way, a red pencil and yellow pad of paper in hand.
When I followed up later on the introduction, the editor said she had never heard from David, but I knew otherwise because I had seen him write the note and remembered and appreciated his generosity.
Some memories are triggered like Proust’s Madeleine, by smell and taste. Yesterday I entered Chef Chow’s restaurant on Harvard Street, saw a former student whose father was a camp counselor with Dunreith nearly 40 years ago, a dear friend who is a librarian at Facing History and a former colleague from Brown Middle School in Newton.
Beyond those connections, though, the sight of the teapots reminded me of meeting up with my circle of friends from Brookline High at an appointed date, also seeking to drink more pots on tea than we had the time before. Although we said the record was 29, I think most of us would admit now that we fudged a bit in the country, but the joy in the shared experience endures. So, too, does the pleasure in eating the deep-fried Szechuan bean curd with broccoli and a tangy brown sauce.
Smelling the dish as the waiter brought it from the kitchen sparked memories of hundreds of trips to the restaurant over the years, going there for joyous occasions like the mini-reunions, during hard times like when Paul Tamburello and Nona Bock, our former teachers from Pierce School, took Mike, Jon and me there in 1986 after our parents’ near-fatal accident. The food and their concern enveloped us in a warm balm and gave us comfort for a blow we had just absorbed and were only at the beginning stages of comprehending.
And some come from places. Like walking around the 1.5 miles of Jamaica Pond, where Guy and I ran many a time, he in his wheelchair and me on my feet, where Dave Ax and I used to walk two, three or even four times while we were roommates in nearby Parkton Road in the early 90s. Or walking around in the late evening with Dunreith when we were first dating.
Visiting Mom in the hospital brings back memories, too. When Jon ate Mom’s apple sauce in the Recovery Room, it brought back how he did the same thing in 1986 after the accident, when he had just turned 16.
The memories reinforce life momentary and timeless nature. In a different way than looking in the mirror, being home reminds me again both how much time since I was the fresh-eyed boy in some of the pictures in Mom’s and Dad’s homes, and yet how quickly that time evaporates through Brookline’s places, sights, smells and people.