The “Heartbeat Reggae Now” album, which is way more politically radical than I could understand as a child, comes with hot, sticky, sweet associations of riding around Philly in the back of papa’s truck. Hot because we’d always visit there in the middle of a blazing summer. Sticky and sweet because we’d pick up Rita’s at every opportunity. That’s what the Bay Area doesn’t have: good water ice. Not that snow cone shit, but the kind made from fruit juice and frozen bits of lemon and cherry.
Those were the only two flavors I’d get - the cherry staining my whole mouth and my white K-Swiss sneakers red, or the acidic lemon leaving my tongue tingling. The one time I encountered water ice in Mosswood Park during the Pan-African Festival 15 years later, you woulda thought I’d found the path toward world peace. Elation and the unearthing of sweet memories. Sadly, the company that sold it was in town only for the festival. Devastating.
I’ve been digging more lately. Digging in the crates for old music my dad used to play, digging through old stories I used to write (I finished a novel at 14 - it’s actually pretty legit), digging and digging. Singing my mother’s songs to my older brother when he gets sick. Reliving something, I’m not sure what.
It’s not exactly to escape the fact that I somehow am now an adult with adult responsibilities, because adulthood has its own sweetness and adventure. I guess it’s to honor where I come from, to hold sweet onto the memories that are my foundation. To exhume them and place them next to the new, fresh ones that I create each day. To continue the tradition of storytelling so important to my family history. Digging for memories like the greedy dig for precious stones.
Memory seems to transcend all sense of time and space. I can see the scenes of my life like photographs when I smell oil from a mosquito lamp, or feel the hot humid air, or hear a high trumpet not from a 60-year old Miles Davis album on Sunday morning. And it doesn’t matter that I live over 1,500 miles away from each of my parents - when I put on Fela or sing my mother’s songs, they are in the room with me. Weekends are especially poignant and sacred time for unearthing, for quiet reflection. For the comfort that memory brings. Something that I used to run from, I move towards my history with open arms and open heart.
But I’m still in search of good water ice.