It comes out of nowhere, as it always does.
This time it happened while clicking on an entry at The New York Times website. When it appeared, it carried a banner ad for a performance by the Lipazzaner Stallions at Madison Square Garden. And I fell back.
I can't even remember how old I was, but let's say I was in high school. The Lipizzan Stallions were a regular attraction on the local stadium circuit, showing up at least once a year at Vet's Auditorium in Des Moines or Hilton in Ames. The commercials heralding these appearances were ubiquitous, and rather cheesy, as corny and easily-mocked as ads for Holiday On Ice or some such. Once, while the whole family sat around the TV, I made some snotty comment, something along the lines of, "Who would ever want to see that?"
"Oh, but they're so beautiful," Mom replied. "I remember reading about them when I was little, and I've always wanted to see them in person."
I didn't respond. I couldn't respond. What could be said? The commercial ended, the program resumed. It was never discussed again.
Just a moment in time, lost, forgotten. Except I could never quite forget it. It stayed, it lingered, all the rest of my life. For one moment, my mother had shown a part of herself I had never sen before, a part I could never have guessed existed. It made her more complicated, more human. And I had mocked it, unintentionally, sure, but still, I had hurt her on some level, and I could never bring myself to apologize.
Instead, I did what most people do: I hid it away and pretended it never happened. It worked at the time, and it still does, mostly. After all, how often in the course of my day-to-day existence am I going to encounter a reference to the Lipizzan Stallions? It almost never happens. Almost.
Then when it does, it's always unexpected, and I can never prepare. But really, what could I do to shield myself from a thirty-year-old memory, something most people would have long forgotten? But I can't forget, and I shouldn't: Sometimes I feel my memory of Mom is slipping away, but then this or something like it pops into my head, a chance to recall how human she was, a small, defining trait that seemed so unlike her, a reminder of how much I will always miss her.