Monday, June 12, 2006


In the early 1970s, pop singer Carly Simon hit the top 40 charts with a song called “Anticipation.”

A few months after the song’s release, a company that manufactures ketchup purchased the exclusive rights to use it in a series of television commercials. It forever changed my connection with the song. Instead of thinking about a slinky, sexy Carly Simon singing, “Anticipation is making me wait. It’s keeping me wa-a-a-a-a-aiting.” I began to associate a thick glob of ketchup slowly oozing out of a ketchup bottle. Big difference.

Music has such strong connections to our memories.My association with that particular song has changed once again. Yesterday, while driving my daughter though Arkansas on her way to summer camp, “Anticipation” came on the radio. As Carly Simon sang, I watched my daughter’s face in the rear view mirror. She was wide-eyed, eager, and excited about going to summer camp. It was the same look her brother had on his face an hour earlier when we dropped him off at his grandmother’s— the excited anticipation of good times to come.It struck me that there is nothing quite like the anticipation of summer camp and summer activities during one’s youth. It is an eagerness that we never seem to recapture with the same intensity once we grow older. The anticipation experienced during one’s youth is unlike that in any other period in our life.

As I write this, I am sitting in a room in the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock waiting to fly to New York to meet with publishers, agents, and publicists. Certainly nothing I am looking forward to with excited anticipation, though the prospects for eating a few good meals have me contemplating the parental summer formula: Son with grandmother + daughter at camp = parents alone. Parents alone + one free week = New York City. New York City + restaurateur/food writer = great dining, squared. I am certainly anticipating a week’s worth of excellent meals.

Suddenly it strikes me that Carly might have had it wrong. She sang, “Anticipation is making me wait. It’s keeping me waiting.” Actually, anticipation is the result of waiting. It is not making one wait, or keeping one waiting, but the by-product of the act.

As we offered our goodbyes to our daughter and prepared to leave her in the able hands of the Camp Ozark staff, she gave us the I-don’t-want-to show-too-much-affection-to-my-parents-while-the-other-kids-are-watching brush-off. Her friends were urging her to follow them as they hurried off to their first activity of the camp session. She gave us a half-hearted hug, said, “bye,” and ran off with the others. We were a little disappointed but couldn’t point the finger too strongly as her mother and I had probably done the same thing to our parents when we were younger.

Slightly dejected, my wife and I began the slow walk up the hill that led to the camp exit— in an instant, my anticipation changed from a culinary field trip to New York, to the joyful reunion with my daughter seven days away. Halfway up the hill— about five minutes after we had said our goodbyes— we heard a sweet, but excited, voice, “Momma, daddy.” It was she. Our daughter had left her friends to come and give us a huge bear hug, a kiss, and a final thank-you for sending her to camp. Somewhere in the middle of the Ouachita National Forrest, on the side of a dirt hill that led to a parking lot, I experienced the greatest hug of my life. It was a moment that I will never forget.

The song was still swimming around in the back of my mind as her mother and I finished our walk to the car. Carly was singing, “…and stay right here, cause these are the good ol’ days.” Yes ma’am, they certainly are.

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