I was sitting in a sticky fourth-grade classroom on a May morning in 1981. The subject was Boring 101 and I was acing it.
Then a voice from above shattered the monotony of math by inviting me via scratchy intercom to pack my things and meet my parents in the front office. I smashed my things into my “Alf” backpack and sprinted down the hallway like a prisoner escaping the "Green Mile."
My parents had already signed me out and were waiting at the front door of Rose Hill Elementary School in Charlottesville, Va. As an older child I might have been worried that something drastic had happened. Had my parents made good on their threat to send my brothers to reform school? Had the spaceship finally returned for my sister? But when you're 9, all you care about is getting off school property before someone changes their mind.
We stepped into the parking lot and I saw a glimpse of heaven. A red Pontiac Firebird sat in the circular driveway in front of the school. “Want to go for a ride?" Dad said.
“Are you kidding? Are ROLOs a food group?”
So began one of the most memorable days of my childhood. My father had been called up to a meeting at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and at the last minute decided to upgrade his Uncle Sam rental car from his own pocket to something a little sportier. He'd convinced my mother to join him for the day and to bust me out of school. I don’t want to exaggerate, but it might have been the single greatest decision of their parenting careers.
I was thrilled that my mother let me ride up front while she sat in the back and knitted all the way to Washington. While my father was in his meeting, my wide-eyed mother and I got a tour of the Pentagon from a man with enough metal on his chest to build a Zeppelin.
Later, on the drive home, my father felt morally obligated to test the upper limits of the speedometer. Because my father is no longer alive to defend himself and because my mother occasionally reads my columns, I will not report the actual speed. Let’s just say that the only time I’ve been faster in a vehicle, the bumper didn’t say "Pontiac." It said "Delta."
Yes, it was a memorable day. It was an adventure I remember with laser clarity.
It was an anchor memory.
Do you have anchor memories with your parents? Children? Siblings? They are the handful of key experiences from life that stand above all of the other Christmases, birthdays, school concerts and vacations. Those are all important and memorable, but most blur together through time and duplication.
What are my other anchor memories? Making a funny holiday video for our extended family 2,000 miles way. The night my father bought the first CD player when they hit the shelves at the local Sears. It was so big, I’m surprised it fit in the trunk. The only CDs they had for sale were by the Boston Pops and Lionel Richie.
My mother has made anchor memories with me, too. I recall the day President Ronald Reagan was shot and how my mother tearfully explained it all to me after school. She sat at a wooden frame in the living room tying an orange-and-green quilt and I sat underneath it eating peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Many years later we drove cross country together and remembered that anchor memory while making another.
Anchor memories: These are the ones our children hang on to when life becomes a storm they do not think they can survive. They are the anchors to family when we are tossed violently across the ocean by choices, temptations and the countless winds beyond our control.
Anchor memories: I wonder if my own four children think they have any yet? Would they name a vacation? A blanket fort in the basement? A trip to the zoo? Ice cream in their PJs?
Or would they struggle to think of a time I didn’t have my phone to my ear or a manuscript on my lap?
Anchor memories: Will you make one this summer? Maybe two? Will you turn off your phone, your job and the white noise of adulthood to share an experience your children will remember in 10, 20 or exactly 31 years? Will you create a memory too big for a scrapbook?
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The Wedding Letters." He can be reached at [email protected] or www.jasonfwright.com.