Sunday, October 11, 2009


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.