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February 13, 2014

MAY: Simply unforgettable

— My dad used to say that I had a selective memory.

I could remember that in 1956 Mickey Mantle won baseball’s Triple Crown, leading the league in home runs, runs batted in and batting average. That same year, he also led the league in strikeouts with 99.

However, I couldn’t remember to make my bed. There were some things that were always more important to me — and those were the things I remembered.

Important events became important dates that I remember in great detail. I know exactly what I was doing the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. Other events that have become vividly etched in my memory include Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, troops hitting the beach in Desert Storm, and the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. Let me tell you about another unforgettable date.

The date was Friday, Oct. 23, 1987. The place was a forgettable Mexican restaurant named Chi-Chi’s in Cincinnati. It was located at the Route 4 exit, sandwiched between the Tri-County Mall and the new Forest Fair Mall. The parking lot was small — I dropped her at the door and finally found a parking spot in the far corner of the property.

Chi-Chi’s was always crowded on the weekend, and this Friday was no exception. The wait was just more than 20 minutes, but it seemed like 20 seconds. The conversation was lively; it was the first that was relaxed and personal, not focused on professional issues. We danced around the painful topics — for her the death of her husband, for me an unexpected divorce.

The waitress brought chips and mild salsa; I had to ask her to bring some hot. She had a diet Coke to drink; mine was regular. I ordered a small serving of queso for us to share.

When the waitress returned for our dinner orders, she had to interrupt our conversation to do so. She requested a chimichanga with chicken. I was craving the same, but with ground beef. Service was slow that night, but neither of us seemed to care. The music was festive; the background noise boisterous. The time skated by quickly and it was soon the end of the evening.

On the way home, I had AM station 700 WLW playing quietly in the background. When there was no ball game on, their weekend late-night DJ was a man named Jim LaBarbara, known as “The Music Professor” because of his incredible knowledge of oldies music. His fun facts and trivia were drowned by our continued chatter — she may not have even known the radio was on.

About halfway to her house, Jim introduced an unforgettable song from 1951, a handful of years before I was born. The words and music were written by Irving Gordon. The music publishing company liked the song, but not the title and told him to rename it or it wouldn’t be released.

Since then, the song has been covered by hundreds of singers, but only two have had phenomenal success. The original recording, working with an arrangement by renowned orchestra leader Nelson Riddle, was the one playing on LaBarbara’s turntable that evening. Its original title was “Uncomparable,” but the smooth, rich tones of crooner Nat King Cole made the song more unforgettable than the publisher’s title change.

Ironically, the other recording of this song that topped the charts was a remix in 1992 used to create a duet with Cole’s daughter Natalie.

As we pulled up into her driveway, the curtains in the living room window parted and four sets of fingers appeared first, then four eyes and a couple of noses popped above the window sill, looking a little like two perfect “Kilroy was here” drawings. An 8-year-old and a 10-year-old couldn’t wait to find out where mommy went on her date.

The date — our first. Five months later to the day, we weren’t walking down the driveway, but the Aisle. That’s why darling, it’s incredible; that someone so unforgettable; thinks that I am unforgettable too.

Perhaps my memories have spurred yours. Happy Valentine’s Day.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com

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