My husband, wonderful man, asks questions. He collects stories. He loves to listen to you. He is not, by choice, a writer. He's simply very curious, and attentive; and he would much rather speak to you about something moving and unexpected than about something dull and plainsong. This is why, sitting down to dinner with my parents this week--we hadn't seen them in quite some time--he turned to my mother, and rather than intoning "pass the salt" or "let's have a moment of silence" or "how was your flight," he looked her in the eye and smiled and began with,
"Now. Tell me a powerful moment from your childhood. Don't think about it. Just share the first thing that comes into your mind. What is it?"
"The smell of tin."
After a moment's surprise, and a pause, she said,
"Tin! It's tin in the sun."
She went on:
"I'm very little. This is the first house I can remember. We had other houses before this one, but I don't remember them. This one had a backyard, and my mother used to give me baths in a tub in the yard. That's how children were bathed then."
"In the 1940's."
"Yes. You took the tin tub outside, and you filled it with warm water . . . And so when I smelled tin in the sun, I knew, I knew, I knew . . ." Her eyes grew big, and she smiled the way a child does, with eyebrows going up as if the sun has risen in the sky for the first time. "I was going to get a bath."
We all sat for a moment. Smell of warm metal in the air. Wet skin. Quick as that.
Fork tastes sharper.
Mama doesn't look the same.
All for the question. All for the asking.
You didn't know. How could you?
Not what you thought you should: something else, my husband reminds me. Ask that.
Causes Mylene Dressler Supports
The Women's Media Center