We all have special perfect places, places where we feel most ourselves, most comfortable. In these special places, we feel our “self” most fully; we feel that what we were meant "to be" is suddenly "is"; we feel that our pasts, our presents, and our futures are mingling. We feel the joyful arms of our guardian angels and personal saints embracing us, and we feel their warmth touching us in seventeen places all at once. For some people, this special place is a chair in the kitchen or a bleacher at a baseball game.
Happy people are those who know where this place is.
They can go there when they need to: maybe not in their darkest moments (at the bedside of a dying parent or friend, or when a woman or man they truly loved leaves them finally with no offer of a hand to hold for even a moment), but surely in those moments after those moments they can turn to these holy places.
For me this place was a place in time: The June day I turned four, a Sunday in 1952, when I stood in the garden in the back of a house we were renting from a veteran of the First World War, an alcoholic with a plate in his head to cover the spot where a shell fragment had carried away a piece of his skull (his name was Ponchek which means donut in Polish and always made me laugh to say it), and I stood in his garden among Black Eyed Susans with their yellow petals and long necks. And my mother in a white dress with little blue flowers sat in the garden between me and my sister, and my father stood in front of us with a Brownie Cadet box camera.
He was asking us in Polish to smile, while my mother told me about the day ahead, how we would go to Kiddie Land up in Melrose Park, Illinois, and my sister Danusha and I would ride on the blue and yellow and red cars and the roller coaster built just for kids. My mother made it sound like there was something special about being a kid the way she talked about the day we had planned.
It makes a picture I don’t want to forget.
Maybe we remember these special places and special times and turn to them because they were the places and times our parents were happy, before their lives took their inevitable turns. Maybe not. Like most of us, I’m not good at figuring out the complex why of things.
But I remember a Sunday morning, and you remember sitting at a ball game between your mother and father, and both are screaming at the batter in a way that frightens you just a little but you know is okay; or you remember a day on a beach in Ocean City with your mother laughing at your father wearing her bathing cap pulled down over his eyes; or you remember your father sitting at the piano with a cigarette between his lips playing a piece you love like “Wild Colonial Boy” or “Stardust” while your mother stands at the ironing board straightening a pleat in her skirt with steam.