It's funny how memory works. There's no telling, as you live your life, which moments might be eternally etched in your memory. Sure some are obvious - traumatic injury or distress, first love, skydiving, celebrity sightings. But others are unexpected and trivial. There is no accounting for why they stay with you.
For me - memories of this sort tend to be stored in my mind as snapshot images rather than full running scenes. One of my snapshots is regularly recalled to me by the number 22, or the mallards on our pond.
There is a pristine mountain lake in New York State's Adirondacks, where I used to spend my childhood summers. I've written about it before, how I spent time with gangs of cousins and others in and out of the lake, in and out of the woods all day. In the evenings there used to be activities at a communal recreation area at one end of the lake -- "the Club." Sometimes they showed movies in a rickety old shed known as the Wolf Den, back in the day when they had to use reel-to-reel projectors. We'd buy 10 cent cokes out of a round-cornered metal vending machine and sit in folding chairs to watch movies like "My Friend Flicka." It felt old-fashioned even then.
The other favorite evening event was Bingo. All the kids on the lake would walk or take boats to the Club, dollars in hand to buy a card or two, or four. On one particular night two teenaged girls, Chris and Ann, were sitting up on the bark-fronted counter in the main clubhouse room, spinning the big cage of bingo balls and calling the numbers. I must have been about 8 or 9, because they seemed very grown up to me. Chris was brown haired, in the know, and very mature in my eyes. Ann was an athlete, tall with very pale blonde hair in tight curls, long tanned legs dangling. She seemed almost exotic to me. Both girls were smiling, confident, full of joy and the ease of summer living.
All of these details I extrapolate from general memories and my snapshot recollection. What I really remember vividly, for some reason, was I-22. Every time the bingo ball with I-22 came up, they would call:
"I-22! Couple a ducks!"
I didn't understand why they said this, but for some reason I loved it when they called it out, usually grinning at each other knowingly afterwards. I figured it was a kind of playful imagination at work, or some mysterious code passing between them that I wished I knew too.
It was a revelation to me when I finally figured out that two twos are the same shape as two ducks (or swans, or geese) on the water...22. Maybe it was the ongoing mystery with subsequent "ah-ha!" moment that made it stick. But for whatever reason, 22 brings me back into that old log clubhouse room, playing bingo with a bunch of summer companions. It is a sound bite, a recitation, a mantra that calls forth the past. "Couple a ducks!" Sunburned arms, bug bites, bruises from tripping over roots and climbing trees, scuffed knees, water logged. The whole essence of summer paradise floods back into my mind with that one flash of memory.
That could be part of the reason why I love having mallards on our pond in the spring. This morning the male kept watch as his mate wiggled and dunked and splashed away, taking a little morning bath. They are a fine couple of ducks. Bingo!