Today everything is mindfulness. “Hitting your tee shot, have your mind on the tee, not the putt you just missed.” Or, “Gardening, feel the soil; be with the plants not with your guilt about what you ate for breakfast.”
Be here now. Live in the present.
Yet the mind wanders, often in summer to summers past. As a child, we had a camp at Pine Point Beach. I remember my pink and white plaid bathing suit. I remember jumping off the concrete sea wall onto soft sand. I remember gathering shells at dawn and “shelling” again at low tide so I could watch the teenage Clifford brothers play volleyball on the hard sand. I remember skipping to 7 a.m. Mass at the big church at the end of the long road.
And I remember Mrs. Tarbox, a large woman who lived in a tiny house on East Grand Avenue on my way to and from early Mass. Mrs. Tarbox wore black clunky shoes and full aprons splattered with flour and chocolate. She had a small bakery in her small kitchen, with the smell of fresh pastries and salted butter wafting onto the sidewalk. I might have been kicking pebbles, or humming, but that aroma and the promise of Mrs. Tarbox’s generosity stopped me. I’d buy her huge blueberry muffins, fresh out of the oven. The hot berries –there seemed to be hundreds– oozed into the airy muffins. I’d bag up enough for my parents and siblings for breakfast.
My favorite treats from Mrs. Tarbox were blond brownie-like Congo Bars with their creamy, tan batter, huge chocolate chips— warm and melted when I bought them—and whole walnuts. I loved them. I’d eat one or more as I hopscotched home. And she loved me. She’d save some: “Susie, take these. They sell out fast.”
She’d sneak me broken pieces from the baking sheets or cooling racks. I’d lick my fingers. She’d wipe them with her splotched apron’s underside before I leaned in for more crumbs.
I love summer. I’m not sure if it’s the warmth, the beach, the sun, the memories of Mrs. Tarbox, something else or someone else. I want to walk East Grand Avenue again. The church is now an event center. Our old camp has a new kitchen inside, and outside, new shingles. Mrs. Tarbox died some time ago, so no Congo Bars or scent of caramelized butter and sugar fill the air. But there’ll be something. Maybe I’ll feel nine years old. Maybe I’ll hear my Dad, gone ten years now, inviting me to play badminton on the lawn. Maybe I’ll smell the baby oil on my mother, young again, as she coated herself with this tanning miracle. Maybe I’ll see the spaciousness of the ocean.
Even within mindfulness practices, can sweet nostalgia be good? What could be bad about a temporary reprieve from my Dad’s death, my mom’s 93-year-old-isms, my friend’s separation from his wife, another pal’s chronic illness and my knees that don’t skip or hopscotch anymore? Writer and poet Ross Gay writes that everyone “lives with some profound personal sorrow. Brother addicted. Mother murdered. Dad died in surgery. Rejected by their family. Cancer came back. Evicted. …… Everyone.”
Can tender memories be something other than escape from or denial of this present moment? Maybebeing there then serves up joy as long as we don’t confuse long ago with being here now, as long as we don’t move into the past, unpack and live there.