By the time you’ve known a person two, three, or more decades, you can no more remember all the meals you’ve shared than you can count up all your conversations.
Pancakes, birthday cakes, and peanut butter; from childhood to adulthood; over buckets of chicken and platters of fish, you believe you’ve learned everything there is to know about your friend’s appetites – in food and in life.
This summer, I reconnected with my friends Robin and Barry, whom I hadn’t seen in ages. We met up in Cape Cod. And just as it always does, the time-space continuum of grown-up life folded back on itself and there we were, back in our giddy, formative days when everything was new and we were eager to devour it all.
We rode our bikes to a busy local breakfast spot. The tiny seaside town was the last place I expected to taste anything unfamiliar, but there it was on the menu, right below the side orders of bacon and sausage.
This pork sausage (pronounced with a soft “c” as in cereal) owes its heritage to the Portuguese-speaking countries whose emigrants came to the U.S. and settled across the Northeast, especially along coastal Massachusetts. Similar to chorizo or kielbasa, linguiça’s flavor is intensely smoky with varying levels of spice. And like those, it’s often combined with potatoes, tomatoes, and shellfish to make hearty stews.
Our linguiça arrived sliced and grilled, ready to enliven the ordinary meal of eggs, potatoes, and wheat bread. We divided it up and agreed it was no threat to bacon. But I thought it paired well with the syrupy French toast, and really enjoyed the way the sweet and salty tastes complemented each other.
Afterward, we rode our bikes back to the house. I don’t recall many details about the rest of that day, or the other meals we shared on that trip.
How does this happen? Recollections of bagel brunches as children at our parents’ homes melt into the memories of lobster dinners at our own adult vacation tables, and are followed all too quickly by the very recent remembrance of the ice cream parlor stop we made after the drive-in movies just a few weeks ago.
Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to go as the years proceed. We remember things from younger days easily, but the blank spaces grow larger. Making new memories becomes difficult, perhaps because we sense there will be less time ahead for indulging in the luxury of looking back.
So we crave spending time with the people who knew us back in the day, for they are the truest witnesses to our lives. Robin and I still finish each other’s sentences and cackle at inside jokes, even if something catches in our throats once in a while, when we realize how fast life is thrusting us forward.
Everything is softened and blurred by time, even rocks along the shore as they are ground into sand, even the people we’ve known the longest.
But the flavors of sweetness, salt, and spice remain – deliciously unchanged.