Fourteen years ago I left the mid-South to move to the Northeast. I cannot tell you what a revelation Northeast summers were after the smoky humid summers of my youth. They say that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory. I have a terrible sense of smell (so much nose! so little sense of smell!). Today I was minding my own business, possibly working on my schlock novel, when a song came on the radio and brought it all back.
Suddenly I was 25, opening the coffeeshop, in love with the baker whom I should have dated, but we were both too confused to figure it out. I played this album every morning and the baker and I exchanged crossword puzzles during the slow hours. It was the first anniversary of my father’s death, and I was in a new part of the country, about to start grad school.
I was lonely as fuck, but also happy. That fall I left my morning shift at the coffeeshop to go to my poetry workshop or my class on Emily Dickinson. Then I went to work at the bookstore. Customers from the coffeeshop saw me at the bookstore.
“Which one is your moonlight job?” one asked. The coffeeshop. I was a mediocre waitress, but I loved the easy flow of people and the espresso (and of course the baker). But talking about books, selling books, finding books, remembering books, arguing with people about books, that was a job I was very good at. I charmed old Jewish men and sassed the young ones (the bookstore was in Jewish neighborhood).
I ran into my RA from my freshman year of college and a girl I had gone to elementary school with. I rang up presidential candidates, famous authors, and David Sedaris remembered my name (it’s a gift he has) after he read at our store.
I don’t really miss those days (except for my knowledge of all books). I was hungry in every sense of the word, and now I’m home. (Although I’d argue that I was home then in that I was doing what I wanted to do, the poetry, the bookselling.)
Mother’s day is the beginning of many anniversaries for me, most of them are sad. My father died just before his birthday and father’s day. So I’m glad for one good memory, the mornings in the coffeeshop. No matter how unhappy I was, this Beth Orton album made me smile. Here’s to maple oat scones and espresso with just a splash of steamed milk and the right song on the radio.
What’s a good memory for you?