There are certain times of the year when I miss home — home meaning either just the USA, or Wisconsin or my parents’ house as I was growing up. Christmas, of course. For obvious reasons like family and food and unrestrained light displays. Halloween makes me miss home, too. The haunted houses and hay rides and kids dressed up for candy. Then there’s Thanksgiving. Easter. Fourth of July.
But there are times when I miss home that have nothing to do with a specific date or holiday. Like I miss home at the sight of peonies, their petals tightened into large, round fists before they bloom. We had an unruly bunch of them at the back of the house when I was a kid. Their heads were so heavy my mom had to tie them back with twine. Tiny black ants zig-zagged over the flowers and down the stems. We never cut them to put in a vase; an army of insects would fall from them any time we tried.
I miss home at the scent of lilacs. The ch-ch-ch-ch sound of a sprinkler. The taste of butterscotch. The itch of thick rope around a tire swing. The broken body of a baby bird.
But it was a mattress that did it for me this past weekend. We were given one for my youngest — it’s covered in a smooth material, flowers printed all over it. My parents had one like that, an extra that came out when we had sleepovers. The surface was almost like satin. It was slippery and decorated with flowers that looked like white curley-cues. I would prop pillows underneath one end to use it as a slide.
The sight of the other mattress, the one I put a sheet on this weekend, made memory hit me so hard tears pricked my eyes.
Memory of that damned slippery mattress at my mom and dad’s made my lungs burn with longing and my hands shake.
I loved my childhood. It came to me suddenly that it was gone. Forty years gone. And it pains me that I’ll never relive it.
My daughters have no garden, no tire swing, no lilac bush, no wild animal graveyard out by a shed. What will they feel and think when memory hits them?
They’ll have their own memories. And I can do my best to make those worthy. I can do my best so that forty years from now they’ll think back and cherish their childhoods the way I do mine. Because it’s actually not about the peonies or the sprinkler or the food or the mattress I slept on. It’s about love. My family’s love is laced into all sorts of items and sounds and smells.
And though I can’t relive the events, I can still feel the love. And I can pass it on.