A few months ago when my husband and I were on a trip to the Philadelphia area, we ate breakfast at a restaurant called Ruby’s Diner. It was a retro eatery designed to make its patrons feel as if they had stepped back in time to the 1940’s. The decor of bright red vinyl booths and white Formica tables, complete with a soda fountain and vintage Coca Cola posters, waitresses in period clothing and music of the era created an illusion that I had indeed entered the Twilight Zone and was back in the war years of my parents’ days.
It was early on a Sunday morning and very few other customers were in the diner. It was quiet as we waited for the waitress to bring us our coffee, and I heard the familiar strains of Glen Miller, music my parents often played on the phonograph when I was growing up. I looked around and noticed a young couple in a booth on the other side of the restaurant, and for a moment my mind played tricks on me, and the young couple turned into my parents as they looked when they first met. My breath caught, and I looked away from my husband so he wouldn’t see that I was about to cry.
My parents have been gone many years now, yet in that instant they were more real to me than I could remember in a long time. They were not my parents. They were a young couple in love, planning their lives together, their future an exciting adventure. Why was I about to cry? Because they had come and gone, in the wink of an eye. There was such an ache in my heart to think of them so vibrant and young, sitting in a red vinyl booth at a diner like Ruby’s in Dayton, Ohio, sipping on an ice cream soda, or sharing their dreams over coffee, my brother, sister and I not even a thought yet.
That was in September, yet that ache still comes and goes in quiet times of reflection. I am in my sixties now, but I still feel like that young college co-ed my husband fell in love with. I don’t know where the years have gone. Will there ever be a moment when my children hear a particular song or are in a certain place and see us as that young couple we once were? Will their breath catch to remember that we had lives of our own, apart from them? How will they know that we used to take study breaks together by getting hot chocolate from the machine in the basement of the dormitory and then listening to Cat Stevens records? Will they remember me telling them that once, when it was just the two of us, their father drove three hours to Cape Cod to buy me a lobster dinner? Who will hold the archive of our lives, and will anyone care to read it?
Ah, Youth! How fortunate that you do not have these thoughts yet. Oh, Age, how sad that we do.