25 February 2011

The Table of My Memory

What makes a memory?

When I think about my childhood I remember the beach, the ice-skating, the neighborhood block parties. The day Wally – a grown-up! – dropped the bread peanut-butter side down, and then jumped on it. Sailing. My sixth grade teacher. The children’s librarian at the public library. The annual pig roast, and the day my father brought the suckling pig home on the Long Island Rail Road cradled in his arms and dressed in baby clothes. The long long grass in the backyard of the house we moved into when I was eleven – it hadn’t been mowed in years. Kittens. Our jungle gym. The Christmas party. My fourth grade phonics workbook. Stinky cheese and poison. Going to the ballet, the circus, the Museum of the City of New York.

Trips to the city usually included restaurants – special occasion meals, pre-theater meals, lunch in the city meals - storied places, now largely defunct. Like Sloppy Louie’s and Sweets – fish places down by the Seaport, near my father’s office, where he’d take us to lunch on those rare days when we got to go to work with him. The Auto Pub – a kitschy car-themed restaurant in the basement of the GM building, where the Apple Store now is. Pearl’s – a fancy midtown Chinese restaurant, known for the lemon chicken incongruously flavored with lemon extract. The Xochitl – a cheap Mexican restaurant in the theater district where I remember daring my siblings to dip a toothpick in the little open ramekins of hot sauce that were permanent fixtures on the tables. Luchow’s – the huge German restaurant on 14th Street – we went there for my birthday one year. And Keen’s – the chop house with the clay pipes on the ceiling.

Of them, Keen’s is the only one still around.

Last night, we took the girl to a one-man circus, which she thought was hilarious. We needed to eat beforehand, so in some fit of madness, I suggested Keen’s. It’s on 36th Street, where it’s been forever. We couldn’t get a reservation in the main part of the restaurant, so we took a chance and landed a table in the pub. Dark wood paneling, wood-burning fireplace, framed pictures and handbills tiling the walls – it’s like hasn’t changed in the 125 years since it opened. 125 years! It’s been around since before any of my grandparents were. I had a “mutton” chop with a side of sautéed escarole and it was so good that I picked that bone up and gnawed on it, even though it turns out to be lamb. The girl had a hamburger, most of which came home with us, though she ate the whole bun and drank all of her Shirley Temple and polished off a piece of chocolate cake. Before we left, we traipsed upstairs to the bathroom, through the brass embellished rooms with their oriental rugs, past the portrait of Abraham Lincoln and the entrance to the Lily Langtry room and the display case of novelty pipes. “Look, Mama, that one’s shaped like a lady’s leg!”. And then we left and walked uptown to Times Square, through the crowds, past the lights, under the enormous signs, to the one-man circus in the jewelbox theater.

And I wonder, what will she remember?

11 comments:

Heide said...

Offspring is in NH with the grandparents, experiencing some of the stuff that Mate and I (who both grew up there) grew up with -- skiing, skating, snowshoeing on the lake to see the folks icefishing. Looking in the bobhouses, being blown by the wind. And I've been wondering the same thing: what will he remember? and how?

Harriet said...

This is a lovely post. I wonder the same thing about AJ, often. I remember Luchow's too. Our Chinese restaurant in the city was alway's Uncle Tai's. We went every Christmas before or after seeing The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. The best part was their candied walnuts.

mayberry said...

I still remember almost everything about my first trip to NYC--I was 11. And we went to the circus!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Those are lovely memories.

Rima said...

Love this, M. And I might be just a wee bit jealous of your memories. Growing up in the city seems like a fairytale to me.

It sounds like you are helping to create some fabulous memories for the girlie.

Lady M said...

Fabulous memories. I love New York City. I spent a week in town before BlogHer and savored every minute (most of it in the theater district!)

De said...

She'll remember that her parents took her on adventures. We can never know the details that will stand out; the important part is offering the experiences.

liz said...

Something will trigger this memory for her, I'm sure of it.

kathy a. said...

yes, i'm sure she'll have memories.

yogurt said...

Oh, the chocolate cake, for sure!

Jody said...

Memories are tricky things, but you're seeding the field with beauties, that's for sure.

Maybe someday you'll mention the pipe shaped like a lady's leg and a whole garden of memories will come back to her.