There’s a story behind that picture, and I’d like to tell it to you if you’ve got the time. It’s kind of a tough story for me to tell, because it started out so long ago.
You see… to me, anyway… a memory is like a rock stuck in the middle of the stream of time. The years pass, and the sharp edges of that memory get rounded off until it just about loses its shape altogether. As I age, the stream of time flows faster and the memory is distorted by time’s passing more rapidly. To make matters worse, sometimes the memory gets nudged from its place and rolls downstream, knocking up against other misshapen memories, until it comes to rest in a spot completely unrelated to where it began.
The story begins in the summer of 1969. A lot of time has washed over the memory since then, and it’s rattled around in my thoughts for so long that it’s hard for me to know for sure if I’m getting the story right. I’ll try my best to do it justice.
I was home on a thirty-day leave, my reward from Uncle Sam for re-enlisting for Vietnam. Don’t ask about that, it’s something you really don’t want to know. Anyway…. during that thirty days, I spent as much time as I could with a girl named Chris. She had eyes that were a golden brown, and a smile that made me feel so warm and fuzzy inside that I started calling her Sunshine.
Our relationship was pretty normal for Midwestern kids in our situation. We took my dad’s Ford to A&W where we drank root beer, ate potato chips and listened to the radio. We went bowling, and I taught her how to shoot pool. I fancied myself a musician back then, so I played my six-string and sang to her.
It was basic casual dating while I tried desperately to get in her pants.
Thirty days seems like a long time, but it was going by pretty fast, and as the end of my leave approached, it dawned on me just how much I would miss her when I left. I realized that this was the real deal, that not being around her would leave a gaping hole in me… a hole that I wouldn’t be able to fill with anything else. Schemes of how I could hold on to her while I did my time on the other side of the world started buzzing around my brain.
I was nowhere close to being a cultural sophisticate, but I knew that some token of my affection was called for. The run of the mill band of gold with a gemstone sounded too conventional, and I couldn’t afford it anyway. I racked my brain until I arrived at the kind of solution that only a morally bankrupt, socially inept boy from Gary, Indiana could come up with.
We spent a final afternoon at a State Park in Illinois, and I knew that this was the time to do it. As we were walking back to my dad’s car, I took a pop-top pull tab from a can of soda and slid it on her finger. Luckily, she didn’t bust out laughing or snort in disgust.
She just gave me that smile that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside… Sunshine.
Maybe that pop-top didn’t have anything to do with it, but Sunshine and I ended up getting back together when I came home in October of 1970. Pretty close to Christmas of that year I scraped up the money for a real ring with a tiny diamond mounted on it. It wasn’t much by a lot of people’s standards, maybe even laughable, but I liked its simplicity. The next weekend, I made the drive from Fort Knox, Kentucky to Michigan to get her reaction. We drove over to Howard Johnson’s where we drank coffee and ate pie. I pulled out the ring and asked her if she would marry me.
Again, she gave me that smile that always managed to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside… and then she said yes.
I guess I really didn’t have a date in mind when I gave her that ring with the tiny diamond on it, but good old Uncle Sam did his part to hurry things along. It wasn’t long before I got orders for Germany. I knew I couldn’t face being away from Sunshine again, so I asked her if she would come with me. She said yes, and we were married a couple of weeks later, in July of 1971.
Like any couple, we had good times and bad times. Money was made and spent. Houses were bought and sold. Children came along, grew up, and left. The stream of time flowed relentlessly on. Memories of who we were back in the summer of 1969 were worn down to pebbles and washed downstream. It’s hard to remember just when, but somewhere in the stream I stopped calling her Sunshine.
Thirty-some years later, I’d forgotten all about that pop-top. Its memory had worked its way downstream until it sat at the bottom of a deep pool of my mind. The pool was muddied with all the other memories that ended up there, many of them worn down until they were smaller than grains of sand.
Then one day at work, some unknown current of thought broke the memory loose and forced it upward through that deep pool. The current was strong. It pushed the memory upward so fast that it broke the surface with a little bloop, then plopped back down into that muddy water. A circle of waves rippled out from where the memory had landed… waves that grew wider and moved along the surface… waves of a memory that tickled my brain until I could suddenly see me giving Sunshine that stupid pop-top, just as clear as the day it happened.
And there I was… grinning inanely in the middle of the day. My coworkers had no idea what was wrong with me, and my boss looked at me like he wanted me to pee in a cup. I ignored them, and just kept grinning stupidly at the memory. For the next few days the thought of that pop-top rattled around inside my head, banging up against the sides until I had to do something to stop the racket.
It took a little time and a bit of subterfuge, but I found out that Chris had actually held on to that pop-top. It was squirreled away in a box with other reminders of my lunacy, high up on a shelf in a closet. I dug it out and took it to a small, family run jewelry store… the kind of place where the husband repaired jewelry and installed watch batteries in the back, while the wife ran the counter. The jeweler’s wife and I exchanged ideas about what to do with the pop-top, and eventually we agreed to make a necklace out of it.
Somehow, the jeweler made a mold of that pop-top, and was able to make an exact copy of it out of gold. On this he mounted a small diamond, then soldered on a loop to run a chain through. His wife helped me pick out a simple gold chain to pass through the loop, and the necklace was complete.
That’s what you see in the picture, the jeweler’s rendition of the pop-top pull-tab that I gave to Sunshine in the summer of 1969. I know it doesn’t look like any piece of jewelry you’ve seen before… you probably think it looks more like some kind of fishing lure… but for some reason or another, I like it.
I gave the new and improved pop-top to Chris as an anniversary present, thirty-four years after I’d put it on her finger for the first time… a rock from the stream of our past that I pulled out and had polished up so we’d remember. She wears it often, and when I see it hanging around her neck it makes me pretty damn proud that she thinks enough of me to wear it, that she thought enough of me to keep that stupid pop-top for all those years in the first place.
And every once in a while, I’ll reach out to touch it… and she’ll give me the smile that still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Copyright © 2012 T. W. Dittmer