Marcel Proust, in his self-published masterpiece, “Remembrance of Things Past,” bit into a madeleine and created an awareness about the power of smell and taste as triggers for memories. …
Marcel Proust, in his self-published masterpiece, “Remembrance of Things Past,” bit into a madeleine and created an awareness about the power of smell and taste as triggers for memories. My version consists of tasting chocolate babka crumbs picked off the topping, which evokes memories from my childhood.
Dad was a mad scientist—he worked for the U. S. government in military defense—and Mom was his enabler, a perfect partner in crime.
One day I caught Mom on the porch unwinding dental floss. She attached the string to tree branch sticks every six inches and then shoved each stick into the ground abutting the lake.
“What’re you doing?” I asked, girding myself for her response. With Mom, you never know what you’ll hear.
“Making a fence to keep the geese off the property.”
“Of dental floss?” It looked awfully flimsy.
“Yes, so they won’t hurt their little feet.”
This is the same woman who placed a live 14” small-mouth bass, a gift from a neighbor who caught it in front of our house on the lake, in the freezer because she didn’t want it to suffer by chopping off its head.
“Don’t open the freezer,” she shrieked daily as I reached for the handle. “The fish may flop out.”
“But I want ice cubes for my soda.”
“You’ll have to do without.”
Weeks later, I pulled out a bass shaped in a perfect U formation. It also killed my appetite for ice cubes.
Sunday mornings were dedicated to the fine art of dining at the Stone household. Dad woke up at dawn due to the dog, a large black Lab. Since the day he took that mutt home from the shelter, he never needed an alarm clock. Instead, the dog placed his nose in my sleeping father’s ear and whined.
Dad never heard him, nor did my mother. But I did. From the other side of the house.
Mom slept underneath five blankets next to Dad, who was comfortable with only a sheet. He kept the air conditioner on no matter the season; the bedroom was always cold. Colder than the freezer. It’s surprising he didn’t freeze into a U formation.
“It’s healthier to sleep this way,” he informed me.
I wondered how he defined “healthier’,” because he had colds fifty-one weeks a year. He went for only one week without sniffling—that was the week he had his annual flu shot—and right back to being ill.
“Dad, why do you even bother getting a flu shot when you come down with the flu afterwards?”
“Imagine how sick I would’ve been if I didn’t get the shot,” he responded.
Getting back to the dog alarm, that high-pitched keening drilled through my brain and woke me up. I put on my overcoat, hat and gloves and then opened the door to my parents’ bedroom.
A blast of frigid air hit my face and my eyes frosted over. I forgot my scarf.
“Hey Lachy,” I said to the dog, “Wanna go out?”
Faster than greased lightning, he bolted from my father’s side and ran out of the room. To ensure Dad didn’t succumb to subzero temperatures, I gently placed a mirror under his nose to see it fog up. Sadly, I couldn’t find a way to dig through the mound to reach my mother without waking her. But, if I put my ear on top, I could hear muffled noises that didn’t resemble a death rattle.
Reassured of their well–being, I closed the bedroom door and then addressed the dog prancing in the kitchen, his toenails clicking on the tiles.
“Quiet, you’ll wake up Mom.”
That statement induced him to chase his tail and bark.
“You want to get me in trouble? Get outta here, you mutt,” I said, opening the door for him. He peeled out.
After I shrugged off my outerwear, I set up the dog’s breakfast. Mom spent hours cooking him a tasty concoction, although he was just as happy eating from the garbage pail.
Dad emerged from the bedroom.
“What’s with all this noise?” roared the man who slept through his dog alarm. He could sleep through a Boeing 747 flying directly overhead. Yet, if a butterfly flapped its wings five miles away, he’d awaken in a snap.
“Whatever you do, don’t wake your mother!” Looking around, he asked, “Where’s the dog?”
“Good. Now that I’m up, let me go to the store to pick up a few items.”
An hour later, Dad returned with shopping bags filled with bagels, danish and chocolate babka from Katz’s Bakery. He also purchased an intact smoked white fish, nova scotia and pickled herring in sour cream.
Thus began the familial ritual. Dad cooked eggs with onions and lox. From under the mound, Mom’s amazing sense of snout woke her. She followed the aroma like the walking dead, staggering into the kitchen. The dog, with his sense of smell, whined from outside.
“Will someone let the dog in?” complained my mother. “I can’t stand his whining.”
My father worked on The New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, Mom did the one in the Times-Herald Record and I fed the dog underneath the table. He then curled up and laid down on my father’s feet.
While my parents were immersed in intellectual pursuits like, “What’s a five-letter word meaning thesaurus?” I picked the top off the babka and ate the disintegrating crumbs of chocolate, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Halfway through the babka, my father caught me.
“Hey! There are other people here who may want to eat it.” The dog sat up and stared at me.
Those elusive memories along with a deep feeling of enveloped and coddled love come to surface the relatively few times when I eat the crumbs off a babka. But, only the kind that Dad used to bring home from Katz’s.