FREEPORT—Nick’s Seafood Restaurant sits on the Choctawhatchee Bay. I am eating steamed blue crabs with butter sauce, and I am wearing half the meal on my shirt.
Most people know this joint as “Nick’s in the Sticks.” Namely, those who remember what Walton County was like before it turned into a giant cruise ship.
Our area has changed considerably over the years. For example, long ago you could buy live bait at the grocery store. Those days are gone. Today, you go to the store and you see out-of-town fraternity boys surfing atop shopping carts.
But Nick’s hasn’t changed. The seafood place still has fishing boats out front, chickens roaming the parking lot, and views of the Choctawhatchee.
My mother sits across from me. We are eating seafood, looking at the bay. And we talk about the old days. This is what families do. We talk. It’s a shame that there are so many things I can’t remember.
My memory is getting worse the older I get. I suppose this happens to everyone sooner or later.
One day you’re sharp as a bread knife; the next day you’re driving through traffic, radio blaring, and you notice the drive-thru bank deposit tube lying in your passenger seat.
A few days ago, I asked my friend’s elderly mother about this problem of forgetting things. She is a tough woman who has survived a lot in her life. She buried three husbands, and two of them were just napping.
“Being forgetful ain’t all that bad,” she said. “Means you’re an old person. Learn to love it ‘cause if you’re not getting older then you‘re dead.”
Well, I have already started forgetting big things. Like certain people I grew up with. I just ran into one such man a few days ago. We weren’t close, but we knew each other. He was talking about the time when five of us went fishing.
“I don’t remember that,” I said.
“It was definitely you,” he said. “Remember, you were dating that weird girl who was really into politics?”
I had no recollection of it. I was thinking that this guy’s antenna wasn’t picking up all the channels.
Until later that night, when he texted a photo. And sure enough, I was in the picture, standing before a lake.
I guess you can’t pick and choose the memories you keep. And that’s exactly what I’m thinking about while eating blue crab. I am thinking about how little I can recall. And I’m trying to remember as much as I can.
How did my sister do in her school play? Did I ever see the aforementioned play? Was it a good play? Do I even have a sister?
What was my favorite song when I was eighteen? Was it “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry?” Or was it “Boy Named Sue?”
And didn’t I used to drive my truck along the dirt roads in Freeport, blaring those exact songs, and once I got pulled over by a very grumpy policeman for running a stop sign because I was singing with the radio? Yes, I think I did.
And who was the old man at work who always bought me a hamburger for lunch? He never let me pay for anything. Once, he stole my truck when I was busy working. He returned my truck before I ever knew he was gone.
The next day, I figured out that he had filled my tank with gas. How could I forget his name?
My mother smiles at me from the other side of the table. She pats my hand and says, “It’s part of getting older, don’t worry about forgetting. Your brain remembers the important stuff.”
I suppose it does. After all, I remember her. She and I sort of raised each other.
At this stage of my life, it’s hard for me to believe how much she went through when my father left this world. And it occurs to me, this very moment, that I am about the same age she was when it happened.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like as a young mother, living through hell. But she did it. And unlike me, she isn’t lucky enough to forget things. She has a sharp memory, and remembers everything. Both good and bad.
But you’d never know she suffered during her prime years. She sits across from me, wearing a sundress, eating fried okra. She’s grinning.
“The bay looks pretty,” my mother says. “Doesn’t it?”
“It never gets old, does it?”
I look at the bay outside the window. The gray water has been a focal point in our lives. Every year I keep getting older, but the bay doesn’t age a bit.
And it reminds me of my whole life. I’m thinking about good dogs, blue crab, nice people, and anyone who has ever been careless enough to truly love me. I’m remembering my young mother, long-haired, lean, and beautiful, holding me on her hip. Smiling.
I’m remembering the days when you could buy live bait at the grocery store, and most of all…
I’ve forgotten what I was talking about.