The Journey


The Music of Memory


William Mason                                                                                                                                                             August 28, 2007
























































































I have just finished swinging. Seems odd — a 57-year-old man rising and falling on a piece of leather hanging between and at the bottom end of two heavy chains … chains anchored to a horizontal bar positioned 15 feet above the ground … riding a toy meant for young lovers and children.


But, oh! What a ride!


It begins … softly: I feel a gentle rocking back and forth — a soothing, rhythmic motion in perfect sync with the music of memory beginning to swell within my breast. Willingly, I yield to its calming influence, hardly noticing the subtle shifts in my body’s weight that propel my back-and-forth movement. And as effortlessly as one falls to sleep, my mind recedes into a collection of memories — not well-defined, not easily separated into specific images or sounds, yet familiar, much like a fog enveloping a lone soul on a quiet walk through surroundings he had known years earlier, but now has difficulty seeing through the silver mist.


Slowly the individual images begin to take shape and the sounds morph from muffled whispers into words and phrases, some spoken by a loved one who has completed his mortal journey.


With each rise and descent, my path’s arc increases, and each increase brings new, sharper images and clearer sounds, accompanied by tastes, smells, and a river of emotion with as many variations as can be found on any river’s journey to the sea.


Behind me are the foothills of San Dimas where I spent time exploring with my two best friends. Our safaris occurred after school … with one or two notable exceptions. Snakes, horned lizards, squirrels, mice, scorpions, and birds, including a few hawks, were common sights — and each encounter amazed and thrilled us. Once we were startled by a small mountain lion, although we would never have admitted to being slightly unnerved. And although there was and still is an established nature trail, we rarely stuck to it. After all, we were in high school: We were cool and we knew what we were doing! Of course, we had a few ticks to deal with once we got home, but an application of Vaseline helped solve the problem and it was well worth the adventure. By the way, we might have been in high school and acutely self-aware of our adolescent version of manhood, but we never allowed ourselves to miss a few moments with each other on the swings.


In front of me is a sprinkling of tall, slender sycamore trees surrounded by large, broad-canopied, stately native oaks, many of them more than a hundred years old, under which — as a twenty-something looking for a more permanent relationship — I prepared and served romantic dinners to some of the most wonderful, virtuous, intelligent, and kindest young ladies imaginable. Their infectious laughter still fills the air, and I remember well the sweet taste on the lips of one in particular. She loved the beef kabobs, complimented my choice of cheese and fruit, enjoyed the sparkling cider, and had another serving of rice pilaf. My girlfriend didn’t know my mother had prepared the rice; I did, however, thank my mother. At some point our many conversations in the park turned more serious, or at least intimate, and the swings were always a great place to have a portion of the dialogue. The soft, darkened image of oak trees, a canopy of stars, and a mild, ever-so-slightly-chilled summer breeze coming off the Pacific Ocean was the perfect setting for such an excursion.


To my right is the area where my father and I made root beer for a number of church celebrations in July of each year — and the brew was from scratch, not syrup.


Everyone loved the Mason root beer.


Beginning sometime during the mid- to late-1970s, my father and I teamed up to produce the prized concoction. Extract, dry ice, sugar, water — it sounds simple, but proportions and timing are everything, and we had it down to a science ... a good thing because we had to make two 30-gallon batches!


My father directed; we acted.


I can hear his voice, anxious about the end product, but graced with a gentleness that defied his 30-plus years of military service. “How ’bout dropping in some more dry ice.” Then a little later, “Son, we better test it.” After a brief pause, “How’s it taste to you?”


We’d make the necessary adjustments along the way, and two to three hours later the precious fluid was ready for consumption.


And, of course, at the end of the day, I never missed a turn on the swings.


As the years passed, he continued to direct, but acted a little less, which meant I did more. Age was slowly taking its toll. But I loved the old man and would have done anything for him.


This tradition — my father and I working together to make root beer — continued through the first ten years of my marriage. Caryn and the kids loved the brew as much as anyone, as demonstrated by their enthusiastic consumption of the refreshment. Had my father lived beyond that time, I know the tradition would have continued unabated, although I did continue making root beer for church celebrations for a few years after his death and will again be plying the art for my middle daughter’s wedding reception.


As good as the root beer was, however, few people beyond our family realized that the real treasure was to be found at the bottom of each batch: a frozen confection that surrounded and tenaciously clung to the dry ice and had the texture and taste of an old-fashioned root beer popsicle. And I don’t mean the fake stuff that has passed for root beer popsicles over the last 25 years or so, fooling completely the unwashed, the uninitiated … I mean the real thing, the frozen treat we bought from the ice cream truck when I was a prepubescent bundle of energy pleading with my mother for some spare change — it was the era of the milkman taking the old, empty milk bottles from the front porch while replacing them with fresh milk, and the Helm’s Bakery truck passing regularly up and down the residential streets of Glendora. I will never forget breaking off chunks of frozen root beer and sharing them with my dad, mom, Caryn, and the kids.


Ah … those were the days!


Suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, my mind now turns to a scene I had witnessed only a few moments before I began my journey into the past: Once again I hear the laughter of small children as I watch yet another generation take to the air. I can only imagine what their futures must hold, and hope their dreams are as lofty as the heights to which they ascend, and that when gravity pulls them back they continue to thrust themselves upward, for such is the meter of memory’s music.


Refreshed, inspired, surrounded by love … the music of my memory begins to recede into the mist as I reluctantly return to my point of departure.


There is almost always a note of sadness when we must return from such a journey, when the music of our memories must, for a time, come to an end.


But the music is always there, the memories forever ready to be recalled.


And we are left with a valuable lesson: No matter how dark or gloomy life might at times become, our treasured music from the past reveals the light that will once again fill our universe and permeate our souls if we allow it to enter — because the love we have felt can be enduring.


We need only to take a ride on a piece of leather hung from a horizontal bar with two chains, to take flight on a child’s toy … to remember.



























































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(c) Copyright 2007 William Mason. All rights reserved: The work titled "The Music of Memory" (the reflection directly above) may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission from the author.




Last Updated On 2011-10-15 20:38

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