Select Page

The other day I was talking to my sister, and she pulled out an Eileenism. I’ve been known to contaige (sorry, I also neologize frequently) people around me with expressions. This one is “something shiny.” You use it to refer to why you have lost your train of thought, fallen out of a conversation, stopped walking, etc. I usually say it “Sorry, I saw something shiny.” But I’m all about poetic license and if she wants to use “something shiny” as an expression all by itself, well, that’s just fine with me. It always makes me laugh.

The summer after my first year of law school, I went on a study-abroad program to Madrid. Did you know that Madrid is in the middle of a nonrainy hotter-than-your-oven plain in Spain? Worse yet, I was in the throes of my vegan days, and I subsisted that summer on gazpacho, coffee granita (like a coffee slushie) and a canned stew that I don’t remember the name of, but which I used to eat cold out of the can, with a spoon. Except nothing was really cold that summer in Madrid, except perhaps the granita, as it sloshed out of the machine.

Somewhere along the way my sister and I decided that she would come to visit. I had a pensión where I was staying during the week before taking off most weekends, and in honor of her visit, I got a bigger room, where we both took showers in our pajamas before going to bed. It was that hot.

During her visit, we wandered and urged each other to stay in the shade and my sister announced every.single.time mother nature appeared to be close to making a call, for which I, of course, forgive her. We collapsed in hysterical fits of laughter with no provocation, walked close to each other, forearms touching like the Spaniards did, to garner less attention on the street. I exhorted her to please oh please eat the pantera rosa (pink panther) bologna in which each cross slice showed the pink panther’s face, or at least the yodel-like snack cake with the same name. My veganness permitted me neither. I think she finally indulged me on the snack cake, but the bologna will have to wait for another time.

There was a near-deadly experience with carbonated iced tea in Toledo when we were sure we’d been poisoned, and entirely too many fist-clenching, teeth-gritting walks through colonial Spain, our sweat evaporating before it even had a chance to sizzle on the centuries-old cobblestones.

This is what I remember. It’s what lives in my brain in the tiny, dusty drawer called “when my sister came to visit me in Spain.” For me, it’s the whole reality, beginning, middle and end. But my sister lived it, too. Her memories overlap with mine, like a fourth-grade Venn diagram, sloppily drawn. But aside from that strange ellipse in the middle, of memories we share, I don’t really know what’s in her drawer, in the rest of her circle.

The other day we were chatting online, and she used “something shiny” to explain why she’d disappeared for a minute. And she asked me if I remembered that when we were in Spain together, I kept on finding paperclips on the street. This is what she thinks of, she says, whenever she says “something shiny.” She thinks of me bending down to pick up yet another paperclip off the ground.

So I looked in my “when my sister came to visit me in Spain” memory drawer under “paperclips” and just maybe, out of the corner of my eye, saw a scrap of memory about having a bunch of then hanging on a backpack which had been my father’s at some distant point in the past. And I asked her if that’s what she was talking about, and she said yes.

Sometimes memories fade, and the memory drawers in your brain start emptying out, but if you jog your memory just a little, with a photo, a story, a sibling, a friend, you can actually replenish the memory supply, just a little bit. In a way it’s like revisiting the past, or like injecting color into what had turned black and white. So thank you schvester (sister, yiddish this time) for adding a little color. And always, for stopping to look at something shiny.