Mouthful of Memories

As I mentioned, I’ve been negligent in my homeowner duties, I have no groceries. I’ve been piecing together food for about a week, I’m tapped. Last night, driving home, I gave in and stopped at Burger King. I’m not even particularly a fan of BK, but it is on the way home.

I ordered a value meal, and right now, they are offering a free ice cream cone with any value meal purchase. Ok. So I get my meal and they hand me a vanilla soft-serve cone. Vanilla. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a vanilla cone.

I didn’t know what to do with it, it’s not like I could set it down while driving. So, I decided to do as my Gramma always suggested and eat dessert first. I took one lick of that cone and was blown away. I haven’t had a soft-serve cone in probably…I don’t know. Maybe high school? Before? I stopped doing cones years ago. I prefer malts when I’m at a McDonalds or BK, or real ice cream, or Culver’s frozen custard. But soft-serve? And if I were to have some, I for sure wouldn’t have vanilla.

Yet.

As I licked the cone, a million memories came flooding into my mind. The taste of the soft-serve, the texture. The feel of the cone in my hand (those generic sugar cones that taste like cardboard). It was all so familiar and it tasted like childhood. It tasted like riding a bike with one hand and licking a cone with the other. It tasted like rare trips to McDonalds by Lake Phalen. It tasted like summer. It tasted like my grandparents and special treats. It tasted like Shasta.

I was eating this cone, driving home, and I was remembering a thousand little moments that I might have forgotten, otherwise. I remembered my mom’s parents and how her mother used to always give us dessert. I remembered how we’d go to their house and they’d take us to Subway and my grandpa would order the meatball sub. I remembered my dad’s parents and how my grandpa used to go to McDonalds just to get ice cream. I remembered how my grandma always had candy and that they kept pop in their root cellar and we thought it was scary, but we’d brave it for a can of pop. They always had Dad’s rootbeer and I think that is why I love it so much. I remembered how when we were kids we hardly ever got to have pop, but sometimes my mom would buy a case of Shasta, because it was cheap and if we were very lucky we got to pick out a few cans of our favorite flavors (cause Shasta was a mix and match pop) and I loved the black cherry the best and my mom used to charge us a quarter per can. She must have made bank because Shasta was super cheap. I remembered how when we were kids sometimes we’d have ice cream. Mom would buy a gallon of ice cream at the store. Usually is was¬†Neapolitan, three flavors in one, but sometimes Cookies and Cream, and a few times, Chocolate Marshmallow, which is still my favorite, to this day, but it is almost impossible to find. In the summer, she would by those rainbow cones, remember those?

And they were “flavored” except they still all tasted like cardboard. But it was exciting to pick out the cone flavor. And my brothers would take huge scoops and pile it as high as they could. And I would take small scoops and pack it down, all the way to the bottom of the cone. I used to love that even with the last bite, I’d still get a good mix of ice cream with my cone. I don’t know what Emily did. She was small then, she probably took whatever mom gave her.

When I got to the bottom of my BK soft-serve, I grinned to find they piped it all the way to the bottom.

I remembered how sometimes, on very special occasions, we’d get Dairy Queen. Dad would usually go, while mom waited at home with us kids. He’d come home with a huge bag of dilly bars. Didn’t matter if I desperately wanted to try a Blizzard or really anything else at all, we all ate Dilly bars.

Then that made me think of the A&W rootbeer out in Oakdale and how we got to go there a couple times and have “real” rootbeer at a drive in. Then I remembered, Jerry’s Drive-in. It used to be on White Bear Avenue, and they had the best onion rings ever. I don’t even really remember the onion rings, I was pretty young when they closed, but I remember, clearly, how my parents loved those onion rings and no matter what we got there, there was ALWAYS a huge order of rings to share.

While I was doing all this thinking I accidentally bit into the cone and got a mild case of brain freeze. Then I remembered a slumber party I had when I was young, I think it was at Amy Reasoner’s house, she grew up just down the street from Kelly. Anyway, I remember we were eating ice cream and trying¬†to get brain freeze. Kids are so dumb. And then I thought about how my mom has always been able to bite into ice cream or frozen treats with her front teeth. I can get brain freeze just watching her.

As I pulled into my garage, finishing the last few bites of that cone, I thought how remarkable it was. I experienced memories I haven’t touched on in years. Some were half-forgotten and others were just dormant, waiting for a spark to ignite them. They say it is scent that carries the strongest memories. For me, last night, it was taste and texture, long forgotten remnants of the joys of childhood.

I guess vanilla isn’t that bad after all.

Remember Yesterday

September 8th was the one year anniversary of the suicide of my friend, Peter.

His wife and son came to town to visit all of Peter’s friends. I held a reunion at my house. It was wonderful to see everyone and to talk and reminisce about old times. But, it all felt a little strange. Like we were all forcing this sense of happiness that no one really felt.

I sure didn’t. When we had Peter’s memorial last year, Niki invited friends to stand up and talk about him, in front of a video camera. She recorded all the speeches and she’s saving them for Finn, so that someday, he’ll get to hear how much his dad was loved. I was crying through most of the memorial and all of the speeches. I was standing with Mindy and Tom and Mindy kept encouraging me to say something.

I really, really wanted to, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have it in me to stand in front of that group and share my grief. Not then, not when it was so raw. In the year that has passed, I haven’t been able to talk about him much or to share that grief. On Thursday, I was sad all day long. I missed him so much and sometimes, it seems like the world has forgotten him.

When I think about Peter, I remember a lot of different things. I remember how tall he was and that he used to wear these funky hats. I remember how Niki used to pick on him because she thought some of his hats were…I don’t know, dorky? I loved them. I liked that he was confident in himself and who he was and that he’d wear something he liked, even if the person he trusted most said she didn’t like it.

I remember going to their wedding and being the one to drive the bride and groom to the hotel. Then, they forgot their champagne in my car and I had to hand deliver it to their room, about ten minutes after they arrived. I was so nervous to “interrupt” them on their wedding night. Peter opened the door, still in his tux, and hugged his thanks, making me feel silly for feeling so nervous.

I remember how he wanted his own special nickname for me. He wanted to call me something that no one else called me. We went through a slew of them, until he settled on Vi (long I). He didn’t call me that very often, but he always grinned at me when he did.
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I remember how smart he was and that he loved trivia as much as I do. Trivia was the thing that bonded us. We had gotten along quite well, from day one, but to move into “friends” territory, it took a trivia game. Peter knew exactly how smart he was, I think he was surprised to find out I was that smart, too. He was always up for playing some game, especially a trivia game. Then, one night, during game night at his house, he and I hatched a plan. Instead of evenly dividing the teams, we’d be a team, just him and me; versus everyone else. I think there were 6-8 people on the other team. We won. Decimated them, actually. They still talk about that game. Pete and I were very good at trivia.

I remember how he hugged me each and every time I saw him, even at work. Often times, he’d pick me up when he hugged me–he was very strong. The night of my 30th birthday, I was doing photos with every friend in the room. Peter had been watching me and thinking about what we’d do. It wasn’t just a stand next to each other and smile photo, not for us. I actually ended up with two wonderful photos of that night, as we stood together, talking about the “plan” for the perfect birthday photo, I was laughing and Kelly snapped a picture.
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Then, he picked me up, I kicked up one 4 inch heel and we kissed…photo. I have that one framed in my living room. I know that one day I’ll smile again when I look at it, now, though, it just makes me miss him even more.
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I remember one night after I’d moved back from DC. The gang was gathering up at GW for drinks. I was one of the last to arrive and when I walked in, Peter stood up and came over to me. He gave me a huge hug and whispered in my ear, “Niki and I are taking off the gloves.” My eyes got huge and I got so excited. He pulled me in for another hug and told me that they weren’t telling people that they were trying, but he and Niki really wanted me to know. I remember his smile that night, how happy he looked as he contemplated a future as a father. I remember he winked at me as I weasled my way around the table to Niki and tried to hug her casually, so no one would know that everything had changed.

I remember that he used to ask me to go have a smoke with him at GW. We’d go out to the alley and lean against the wall to smoke and he’d suck his down. He was the fastest smoker I ever met. He could easily finish two full cigarettes before I could finish one. It’s weird that such a strange little quirk is one of my strongest memories of him. I used to joke that I was getting healthier on smoke breaks with him, because I never finished a full cigarette before he was antsy and ready to head back in.

I remember how much he loved Niki and how he wasn’t afraid to let that show. I used to think, “that’s what I want”, because he was a man who was proud to be a husband and eager to tell the world how amazing his wife is. One night, after a long night of drinking, the three of us stopped up to GW for last call. Or maybe it was the only place in town left that would still serve us. I was driving, but Peter and Niki were very drunk. Niki got up on the bar, yes, ON the bar, and began shaking it to whatever was on the radio that night. Peter and I sat at the end, together, and as Niki danced her way up and down the bar he looked at me and said, “she’s so beautiful. Look at my wife.” And the tone in his voice choked me up. I could only look at him. Then he added, “and check out that booty!”. And I laughed, as I was supposed to. It was very Peter to say something sweet and then to lighten the mood with something raunchy.

I remember when he told me that they were expecting a baby. They were both so excited. Peter waited until Niki was out of ear shot and then he asked me, “when do baby showers happen?” He wanted to make sure that Niki had everything she deserved. I promised him that I’d make sure she had an amazing shower. Muffy and I threw her a shower 2.5 weeks before she was due. It was later than we wanted, but the only day we could get the schedules to coordinate. When Pete and Niki arrived, we asked how Niki was feeling and she said she was fine. She told us that she thought she was going to be overdue. She said she was overdue when she was born and Peter added that so was he. I told them that first babies usually come early, not late. They laughed and Niki said she felt like she had weeks left. Our shower was on Sunday…Finn was born on Thursday. He was two weeks early.

I remember how, after Finn was born, Peter took a picture and sent out a mass text. I congratulated him via text and asked how everyone was doing. He reported on how amazing Finn was and that Niki did an incredible job. “And you?” I asked. He said, “I’m just sitting here, looking at my wife and son.” Even via text message, his joy shone through.
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I remember how he loved to go camping. He and the gang would go usually once a year. I was always invited and always said no. I don’t camp. I don’t sleep outside, I don’t sleep on the ground. He’d ask me year after year to go along and I’d always refuse. Then, last year, he turned 40 years old. I called him, just to say hi and catch up. We chatted on the phone for almost an hour, talking about what it was like to turn such a momentous age and how I have trouble believing the *he* was 40. He told me that he and Niki were planning a trip up to the cities before the end of summer and that he wanted to go camping. I laughed at him and said, “so you don’t want to hang with me?” and he said that what he wanted for his 40th birthday was for me to come camping. I hemmed and hawed until he added, “I’ll bring you a bed.” I laughed again and he said he’d bring a futon out into the woods and put it inside a tent, just for me, my own little woodland hotel room. I agreed that if he’d bring a bed to the woods, I’d go camping for his 40th birthday. He was so happy and excited he talked for 10 minutes about all the fun things we’d do when we went camping. He told me it would be an “experience.” I tried not to dampen his enthusiasm; none of what he said sounded like fun to me.

I remember that call with perfect clarity. It was early July 2010. Two months later, he would be dead. That phone call was the last time I ever spoke to him. When I remember it now, I’m so glad that I agreed to go camping with him, that I gave him that little gift. And I’m actually sorry that we never got to go. I never thought a day would come when I’d be sad to miss out on a camping trip. It’s just that I don’t know anyone else who would offer to lug an actual bed out into the woods, just to get me camping.

I remember how, no matter what, Peter could be counted on. He was the one to turn to if you needed someone to listen, if you needed advice, if you needed to laugh, if you needed an inappropriate comment, if you needed help. If you needed him, he was always there. I wish that he had known, that he had trusted, that we’d all be there for him, when he really needed us.

It’s been a full year since his death. A year since I’ve seen my friend. A year knowing that he’s gone. He may be gone forever from my life, but he won’t ever be gone from my heart. I still think of him and miss him and try to laugh at my memories. I play trivia and I trust that if I don’t know the answer, wherever he is, he’ll whisper it to me.

Probably along with a dirty joke.

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