I was in Burger Heaven on Lex in the low 60's, waiting for my lunch. An elderly couple, perhaps in their mid-eighties, entered the restaurant. Each had a cane, and each had white hair—hers short and wavy, his fringe unexpectedly and strongly reminiscent of my late father’s.
They walked toward the back, toward me, and stopped in the narrow aisle leading to an empty booth, near mine. As they waited for a busboy to finish cleaning the table, a waitress carrying food-filled plates began to step around them.
The man placed his hand on his wife’s elbow. Gentle. Protective. Decades of gallantry were in that simple gesture, one I had seen my father do countless times. It startled me, and warmed my heart. Filled it with memories of him that tumbled one over the other. His intellect, his eloquence, his gentleness. I wanted nothing more at that moment than to share a meal with him, a hamburger medium rare and piled high with sautéed onions. I wanted nothing more than to discuss the mystery novel I am halfway through. He would have enjoyed it. Ridley Pearson. Good, not great, but plenty good for a summer read.
I left the restaurant, my meal almost uneaten because I felt full. Filled with pieces of my past that kept me company as I strolled downtown. By the time I reached the Chrysler Building I was recalling a childhood summer spent on Watermelon Hill Road in Mahopac. My parents had rented a summer cottage with a small pond in which we swam. The house was nothing special but the owners’ record collection was. I think it set a record for the number of classical records in a personal collection. The second largest in the country back then, that’s how I remember it. Wall after wall filled with LPs. We listened to so many of them, endlessly it seemed, that long summer. We played them, one by one, on the turntable. Whether we were inside the cottage or out, floating in the pond or catching fireflies at dusk, we listened to Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert. My father’s favorites.
Early impressions can last a lifetime. This one, this summer memory of a place I hadn’t given thought to since I was a kid. It was so unexpected, so vivid. That simple cottage with its worn furniture, the family restaurant at the far end of our road. A small hibachi outside the screened door of our rented cottage. My father grilled hamburger patties that my mother had made. Now, I could almost smell them. I could almost taste them. By the time I was in Kip’s Bay I was hungry. I should have finished lunch.
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