When I was about six or seven years old, I had my first sip of coffee in my father’s hometown: Narasapur, India. It was summer vacation and we were visiting our grandparents. We were staying at a hotel in town and mom ordered coffee for herself. Now usually, every time I asked to try Chai or coffee, the answer was always no. I don’t know if it was because it was vacation or because I had whined long enough, but that morning, I got to try my mom’s coffee. It was hot, bitter, sweet. I fell in love with the it’s forbidden flavors at first sip.
Since that day, coffee has been associated with straight luxury, straight freedom, straight adulthood, and straight relaxation. It is not a drink I ruin by drinking every day. Instead, every now and again on a prefect weekend or holiday morning, I’ll order myself a small cup. Sipping it slowly allowing the caffeine to gently awaken each cell in my body.
Now, I like Starbucks and it’s seasonal lattes, but real coffee makes mornings a little more worth it. Only three places come close to that first coffee I had: Jamaican Coffee, Venezuelan Coffee, and Indian Coffee. Not to say that I’m a connoisseur. I am the opposite. I have it so infrequently and am not snobby about it; I’ll drink it when ordered regardless of flavor. However, when it’s good, I am transported back to a time when vacations felt like vast oceans of bliss.
Today N and I drove to Skyline Drive. My first trip back in ten years. Ten years ago, I spent every Autumn season driving Skyline Drive. It became tradition. We’d stop at a small deli after the drive to eat our lunch. I always got the curry chicken salad sandwich. I don’t know if it was actually so good or it was the season and the tradition of it all, but this chicken salad was the best salad I’ve had. The memory of it still vivid. It’s no surprise that I tell N about this tradition multiple times on our drive there. Then, I demand that we relive the tradition after our drive.
My oldie, but goodie car and I chugged up the mountain. The clouds; large, feathery, brush strokes of white guided us to the top. Each overlook a little more dramatic than the last. Each pumping me with serenity and dreams. After a short drive, we drove back toward my nostalgia. I turned right and the memories slid in. All those drives with KH dreaming about our future as grown ups. Here I was back having achieved most of my dreams. We walked directly towards the shop. First red flag that rose was the sign that said Grassfed Meat This Way. That’s odd, I thought, they must have started selling meat too. I walked in anyway to find that it was no longer a sandwich shop. The owner was sitting in the back room that used to be a cafe eating her lunch. She came out when she saw me.
The moment I saw her I blurted out, “A million years ago, was this place a sandwich shop?”
She smiled and added: “Yes, a million or 8 years ago it was a sandwich shop.” I nodded, heart in my shoes and walked out.
“You do this all the time,” N said. “You build up these massive memories and set yourself up for disappointment.”
Kicking me whilst down. I was so disappointed that I would never get to taste that chicken salad again nor would I get to share it with N. The store owner mentioned that there was now a pub attached to the next door antique shop. Low and heavy, we walked over to the pub to have our lunch. We sat down and looked at the menus and wouldn’t you know there was a Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich on the menu. I couldn’t believe it. Surely, this was the same recipe. It had to be a nodd to the olden days. I didn’t look further. When I server came over, I order the Curry Chicken Salad. Her faced dropped; she just served the last of the chicken salad. Trying to hide my disappoint, I asked for a minute longer to make my decision. After a brief moment, I ordered the Grilled Caprese Sandwich with pesto. It arrived after a long twenty minutes. It was comforting and light. A new memory, different and modern.
The sandwich was good, but I walked away feeling robbed of my memory. This would be my fatal flaw, if I were a Shakespearean character. Nostalgia is what I live for. I hold tightly memories connected to my childhood; especially, food memories. There’s something about the sense of taste and smell that make the memory just a little more pleasurable. N’s comment got me thinking about why I want to relive such memories frequently. What is it about the past that makes me happy? What is it about childhood memories that stay so close to your heart? Why do I want to relive them?
Perhaps, one reason is reliving it makes it real like it actually did happen and still exists. Reliving it allows me to feel whole again like those Russian dolls with all the smaller dream2writes inside of the largest one. I may be setting myself up for disappointment, but the few times that I get to relive the memory makes all the disappointments worth it.