When I got home today, I went digging for my jar of sauerkraut. The smell and taste of the tangy cabbage is comfort food for me, conjuring up images of another place and time.
I would have been quite small when dad was working in an office at Lloyd Center mall in Portland, Oregon. I have images of returning there as an adult and not knowing my way around, but as a child, it seemed so clear to me. That is the power of a place you go often while holding on to a parent’s hand.
At the center of the mall was an ice skating rink. I was young enough at the time that I wasn’t put into skating lessons like my two older sisters. When my mom made their outfits she also made one for me – gold corduroy with something sparkling on the front – but my skates were only laced on to skate on my own. My memories of ice time is of falling and getting up, of sliding my feet a bit at a time and then barreling to grab the edge before I fell again. I didn’t show any talent on the ice but I can still feel my little girl’s determination to stay on my feet.
At Christmas season, skating time would be shared with visits to the seasonal petting zoo. Having moved a lot growing up, I am not sure if this zoo was really at that mall but in my memory it seems to be just down the way from the edges of the rink. I remember the structure as small enough that adults didn’t fit in well. It was one of the places I most longed to go for Christmas in my years living in that area. The year I went and it was closed was a sad one for me.
That is it – a skating rink and a petting zoo. If that seems like so little to make a place memorable in a child’s mind you would be right, if that was all it was.
The thing that made it special was that dad worked there and that he would sometimes let me go to work with him. And Laura was there – Laura, who let me stand holding her hands while she sang in the church choir, who let my sister and I stay overnight and took us to our first drive in movie. Laura, who knew how to make children feel special, as if each one of them was the favourite. Laura, who was the first person I remember losing in my life when a drunk driver was not able to stay on his side of the road.
The thing I remember the most at Lloyd Center was a little bistro near the office. Dad and sometimes mom or my sisters or Laura would slid onto the smooth booth benches to share our special treat. All the adults agreed that this place did these better than anyone else so my child’s mind knew it was true. Pastrami, swiss and sauerkraut on rye bread with some kind of spicy sauce that was just right– a Reuben. The very name still fills me with a companionable warmth. Sitting there, feeling special in the presence of those who loved me, there was no greater sandwich in the world.
Two years ago, it was my father I said goodbye to, walking away knowing that I would not see him again in my life because I had gone to help him make peace before dying. He could eat so little that summer. Cancer was slowly taking away his life. While I was there, a day came when he stopped eating much at all. He slept through much of that day. Having been away from home for many years, I slept in the chair in his room that night.
I told him the time and settled him back down. “Oh,” he said. “I thought it was time to go.” And he laid back mumbling, “Cookies. Cookies and candy and cake.”
“Whatcha thinking about daddy? I asked him.
“I’m thinking about the get together,” was his interesting reply.
“Do you think it will be a good one?”
“It seems so.” And he drifted back to sleep.
I sat in the chair and wrote down these words, the last I had expected to hear from him. He lived another 2 weeks, 4 days longer than I could stay there with them. He is the last of his brothers to leave this earth. So many people he loved have gone. If he sees them there, it will be quite a gathering. I wonder if Laura will be there with him as well?
“Hey, daddy. I hope they have a good reuben place in heaven. Will you meet me there when it is my time to come? Perhaps, in that place we can have the good memories to share.”
I place another bite of the tangy kraut into my mouth and remember.