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Oral traditions and memories have been passed down for thousands of years using music. With rhymes, rhythms, and alliteration, music retrieves information from the past. A particular piece of music can transport us back to another time and place—a virtual time machine in our brain. A soundtrack often accompanies important events in our lives, something playing on the radio, at a live concert, or in a restaurant attaches itself to a fond (or maybe not so fond) memory, and hearing this music again brings along the smells, tastes and emotions of the time.
Here are a few of my trips in the go-back machine.
Seattle, Washington—Rhythm is a Dancer
December, 1992—learning to be a cube rat instead of a kitchen slave. Sweetie and I live on Vashon Island, so my commute to Seafirst Bank in downtown Seattle takes an hour and a half each way and includes my car, a Metro bus, a ferry, another bus, and my feet. If I sneak out of work ten minutes early, I can be home at 6:00 instead of 7:00.
Run three blocks down Cherry, wait for the 118 on 2nd Avenue, hop on the bus and look for an empty seat, tune my Walkman to 103.7 FM-The Mountain, and watch the city go by: the Bon’s Christmas windows on Fifth Avenue, Ruby Montana’s Pinto Pony, down-and-outs sleeping on concrete benches in Pioneer Square, companionable cursing if there is an event at the Kingdome, the stunning view as we round the curve on the West Seattle Bridge, brick homes along Fauntleroy lit up and twinkling, the rush of smug happiness knowing I won’t be stuck in the long line of cars waiting for the boat, trudge down the dock curled up against the cold rain, back on the bus, close to home now.
Always, always hear Rhythm is a Dancer at least once—didn’t like it then and whenever I hear it now, I feel cold and tired.
Los Angeles, California—Fast Car
August, 1988—Six months after my chicken stock accident, I’m back at City Restaurant in the office instead of the kitchen. Although my official title is Catering Manager, in reality I am the girls’ assistant and gofer. I keep track of their calendars, look over the chapters of their first cookbook before they go to the editor, test recipes in the kitchen, and oh, by the way—would you pick up Susan’s laundry, take my car to the lube shop, walk Stella, and drag Mary Sue’s new rescue puppy to the vet for her shots?
It is noonish, mid-summer, hot as can be, cassette of Tracy Chapman’s wildly popular “Fast Car” turned up as loud as it will go, puppy in the back seat of the car whining, moping, barking, and burrowing under the driver’s seat as far as she can go. The puppy is one of a litter dropped off on the side of the 10 without even being leash trained and is a dog walker’s nightmare.
92°, stuck in LA traffic, no air conditioning, roll the windows down only to have Pup attempt an escape and get stuck up to her armpits. Manage to extract her from the window using my front seat, railroad-crossing, Mom arm, only to have moron dog throw up over the front seat and down my back. The smell, the heat, the urge to drop puppy back off on the side of the 10 all come back every time I hear that perfectly lovely song.
Knoxville, Tennessee—Ashokan Farewell
May, 2012—my granddaughter Katie’s high-school graduation. Her pep club takes up two rows in the auditorium and includes one mom, one dad, two siblings, three grandfathers, three grandmothers, plus cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. We are the kid’s table of the ceremony—where the giggling, poking, snickering, eye-rolling, baby crying, and whispering take place. You know…the row that gets the glares and shushes.
It’s early summer Tennessee, in a hot, stuffy auditorium, near the end of a lengthy commencement program (which included impractical advise, windy speeches, a long graduate roll call with only one name of interest, and amateurish musical performances) when the speaker introduces a string duo who will finish the ceremony. The young violinist tucks her chin, lifts her bow and begins to play a haunting piece that Lauren identifies as Ashokan Farewell, which we all hope will never end. Babies stop crying, chattering ceases, and mouths drop open as the ageless refrain fills the air. The cellist joins in for the second verse and our family spontaneously holds hands, happy to be together, watching one of our own succeed.
Ashokan Farewell is on my morning playlist so every day begins with a rerun of that time, holding hands with those people.
Vashon Island, Washington—Blackbird
October, 1976—The summer of love is long gone and the hippies have migrated north to Vashon Island—many of them working at Sound Food. There is music on Friday nights, featuring local talent, some good, some bad—all playing to enthusiastic audiences and competing with noisy toddlers, crying babies, and the clatter of dishes and silverware.
The 7:00 dinner rush is over and I’m leaning against the reach-in with the smokers, moving out of the way to let waitron units get to the side salads and desserts. I don’t usually take a break, but tonight the Sweetie is here for our “second date.” Jan announced his arrival when she placed his order for pan-fried oysters, “He is soooo handsome.” I leave the leaners and smokers and join him in his booth along the side of the restaurant.
Rick Tuell adjusts the microphone, sits down on a stool in the middle of room, the lights dim, he takes his guitar out of its case, and plays Paul McCartney’s Blackbird, singing along softly, almost to himself. I’m not sure which is more beautiful—those introductory chord changes or the sweet lyrics, but all of it—Jan, Bob, the oysters, the stool—comes back in full thrall every time I hear that song.
- Extra small fresh oysters
- Egg wash (equal parts egg & water)
- Flour, seasoned with salt & white pepper
- Breading: 1 part dry bread crumbs or “Panko”, 1⁄4 part parmesan cheese, 1/8 part parsley
- Salad oil for frying
Dust oysters in seasoned flour, then in egg wash, then breading. Heat oil, cook oysters to golden brown about 2 minutes per side. Serve with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and/or lemon.