Sense memory

Sense memory

Editor’s note: Each Thursday, we feature a throwback piece from Topology’s predecessor, catapult magazine. In this essay, Kathryn T. Jones recalls stories from her past through the senses of vision, hearing, taste and touch.


Isadore stands a stocky 5’5” or so, with thick bifocals, balding head and scuffed black work shoes. He is nearing 80, but still works as a museum guard. On many afternoons, he doesn’t notice when I pass through the lobby leaving for the day. He dozes at the employee sign-in desk, head tilted back and mouth open wide.

Every morning, he reads the Houston Chronicle, peering through thick lenses, then a magnifying glass, leaning inches from the print. He tells me he’s won more than he’s lost in the state lottery. As he describes his favorite food, he imitates his mother, turning and patting the imaginary dough in his hands, forming puffy tortillas, soft and light.

Matthew, his son, graduates from high school this year, the third boy Isadore has raised, serial sons. As far as I know, Isadore never married, never fathered a child. But he cared for the abandoned boys as if they were his own, and taught them all he has learned in life: that garlic heals cancer; that long, flat watermelons stack better in the back of the truck; and that you find the best Texas peach pie at the little no-name shack cafés at the crossroads in the piney woods.


I drive into the Shenandoah on Friday night after work, listing to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings on NPR. The October mountains blaze in oranges and reds. Inquisitors drone on, in calm tones that belie the serious accusations of sexual misconduct in the workplace.

I point the old Madza towards Shrinemont, the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia: stone shrine, altar and font, open to the elements, surrounded by a congregation of majestic oaks. The community clusters around a group of cottages and a fine multi-balconied hotel listed on the National Register.  Hundreds from our church retreat here every Columbus Day. A sister church, to which Thomas belongs, goes on spring retreat. My friends support Thomas and declare his innocence. Grace abounds, they say. On Saturday evening that year, I join with others in the old hotel ballroom around a young priest who has Lou Gehrig’s disease. His wife, Mary Lyman, plays the grand piano and we sing and pray and lay on hands.

Music fills the air at Shrinemont; it is so thick and sweet, you can nearly climb on it to mountain peaks. We are standing on holy ground.  I listen to Hill’s quiet testimony, and despite friends’ support of Thomas, I believe her.


At the Rathskeller in Columbia, Maryland, I sip my first glass of wine; a California cabernet, rich and red, it complements the grilled beef. It goes down easy, and someone pours me a second. I am a senior at Oakland Mills High School, out to dinner with friends.

Four years later, I choose not to serve wine at my wedding  Although my suburban Maryland Baptist church leans liberal, the Southern Baptists in attendance appreciate the fruity punch I serve with the curried cheese dip, chunks of pineapple, red grapes, and water biscuits.

Years later still, I tour England with a group from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. We visit the holy isle of Lindesfarne, where St. Cuthbert stood in the causeway lost in prayer as the tides rolled in and grey seals played at his feet. As I travel the pilgrim path, my spouse signs divorce papers at home in the Commonwealth of Virginia. At dinner one night near the Scottish border, Anne B. orders a bottle of mead for our table, thick and sweet. We drink to the saints, to prayer despite the tides, to fellow travelers, and to choices made.


My third grade friend Sarina wears pretty cotton dresses with tiny pink flowers and skirts that swirl when she twirls on the playground. Her mother makes her dresses; my mother sews magician’s capes for Halloween and takes tailoring classes. I sew, too, running the material through the feed in a race, tangling thread and bobbin in a massive, ugly knot.

We are on the playground, running and twirling, in an imaginary dance on the schoolyard stage. I sweep past Sarina and reach out for her. My hand tangles in the pocket of her beige rain jacket and I hear the rip of fabric as I pass.

“It’s okay,” she says, “my mom can sew it.”

But the playground monitor comes, a stern, adult woman, tall and straight.

“Look at what you did.” she scolds. “You are careless with what belongs to others.”

Now I am crying and Sarina puts her arm around me as we slowly circle the playground, no longer dancing.

Another day at recess, I back close to the chain link fence, and dig my toes in the soft dirt. I pull away, and by accident hook my white Keds on the bottom of the link, tearing my heel as I pull. Blood runs onto the white canvas, and I need three stitches.


Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic).