photo by TTQ, CC license
My Facebook status a couple of days ago was this:
I’m enjoying the sound of birds singing and the sight of a cozy cat sitting in a sunbeam. Simple joys.
Add in the feel of a cool summer breeze and the smell of a good cup of freshly ground coffee brewing…ahhhh.
I intentionally tried to touch on the various senses. I could have added that my legs were covered with an incredibly soft and light wool throw (gray and white large plaid with fringe).
Many months ago, I read this wonderful blog post (Sound Memories) on The Glass Bangle.
When I read it, I immediately wanted to write about the sensory links in MY past — but I saved the link in my draft posts, time moved inexorably forward, and I let the inspiration slip away. The idea still interest me, though: What are the sounds, sights, smells, and sensations that remind me of my childhood?
I grew up in a very small town in Northeastern Indiana near a freshwater lake. Most of our summer days (and winter ones, too, when we weren’t in school) were spent in, on or near the lake.
image by The Tromp Queen, CC license
The sound of lapping waves on a boat or seawall or shore definitely brings me back to my childhood. The smell of “my lake” does, too. It isn’t necessarily a “fishy” smell. To me it smells fresh, fun, summery.
Webster Lake, image by The Tromp Queen, CC license
I remember the feel of bare feet on a white-painted wooden pier as I walk out over the water, peering down through the slats to catch glimpses of small fish darting every which way in the greenish water. I see water weeds and lily pads swaying in slow rhythmic movements.
Water lily, image by The Tromp Queen, CC license
I close my eyes and can still feel the wonderfully warm sensation of “laying out in the sun” on either the pier or on our old pontoon boat.
Tan Lines from Typical Summer Activities
Getting Tan; image by Gabriel Jordy via Flickr CC
My fingers touch the rough terry texture of the towel beneath me. I hear WLS or WMEE on the old FM radio (that we once dropped IN the lake, but miraculously is still worked after it dried out!). Those summer songs! Any top 40 hit from June, July or August from the mid to late 70’s turns me back to all of these senses as fast as a time warp whenever I hear them.
photo by TTQ, CC license
Since we lived in a tourist area where people came to enjoy the lakes in the summer months, staying in cottages and cabins, I had a summer job every year from the time I was 14 or so. My first job was working on the Dixie Boat. This paddlewheel boat took hour-long scenic cruises around our lake three times every evening and about 8 times on Saturdays and Sundays. A man from our church owned and ran the boat and we lived just a couple of blocks away from the dock so it all fell together. The job was to pop popcorn and sell ice-cold bottles of pop during the hour-long boat ride. The concession stand was “down below.”
Popcorn Machine, by Adam Jackson via Flickr CC license
So not only does the smell of REAL popped corn popping in an old-fashioned machine (as you might see in a movie theater for instance) connect me to this memory, but the sound of a very large diesel engine and a paddle wheel does, too! It was so loud that it was often hard to decipher what the customer was trying to order!
The Dixie Boat’s paddlewheel; image by The Tromp Queen, CC license
Another sound that reminds me of home is the sound of a pressure cooker! My mom used this odd appliance to cook meat quite frequently through my childhood years. Dad was a “meat and potatoes” guy and worked long hours, so Mom always tried to have hearty dinners ready for him when he got home each evening. I think the idea is to cook the meat faster, keep it more moist and tender — but what I remember is the loud whistle sound and the sound of the chattering top piece when she finally released the pressure. Do people still use this appliance? Apparently so!
Flickr CC, image by Philip Howard: Childhood Chores. Doing dishes.
Another sound that reminds me of my childhood is the sound of dishes clinking around in dishwater (in a sink) and the sound of silverware, glasses or pots/pans being put away. My mom always did the dishes by hand (my sister and I often had to help, of course), but she usually ended up putting them away herself. She did it energetically so there was always a lot of collateral noise. Mom was kind of a fanatical housekeeper, too. She did laundry a LOT (still does when she has the chance, in fact! She LOVES it). She ran the vacuum cleaner nearly every day. So — the sound of a washing machine or vacuum cleaner can bring me back to childhood, too. This doesn’t automatically happen, though, because I hear all of these sounds pretty frequently.
My dad used to whistle as he worked out in the garage on his woodworking. He listened to an old radio tuned to a hard-core old school country station. He would sometimes sing along with the radio. I remember hearing “Cool Water” many times.
The smell of sawdust brings me back to all of that, as does the sound of a scroll saw or lathe (which I don’t hear very often).
“Sawdust” by Jen R, via Flickr CC license
My dad had a Barber shop on the main street of our small town. He would sometimes send my sister and I “uptown” (a couple of blocks down the street to the local drugstore) to buy an assortment of comic books for the shop. I pity the poor boys who had to read the comics we bought!
Donald Duck and Robert the Robot, Image by Tom Simpson: via Flickr Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0
Christian Montone image via Flicr CC; Casper Comic book
Jonathan Morris image of Archie’s Joke book; via Flickr CC license
image by Jasperdo; MAD magazine via Flickr CC
We always got Archie, Donald Duck (and the three little ducks), Richie Rich, Casper, and similar titles. We also bought the “boy” ones, but not as many of those. Maybe Dad bought those himself? I’m pretty sure we got MAD magazines, too, when we could. Whenever I see or hold a comic book (or smell that newspapery smell they have), I remember these trips “uptown.”
Dum Dums image by Liza Lagman Sperl via Flickr CC license 2.0
One of the perks of being the daughters of the Barber was that we got free access to the stash of Dum-Dum lollipops! He gave these tiny suckers to young customers after their haircuts, of course, but we could have one any time we stopped by. If I have one of these little lollipops now, I still imagine standing in his shop or sitting in the big barber chair (if he didn’t have a customer at the time). I always had the sense that I was a visitor there, though. It was definitely a manly atmosphere there.
Barber Chair, image by Randy von Liski of Bob and Gale’s Barber Shop in Springfield, IL via Flickr CC
George’s Barber Shop on SR 13 in N. Webster, IN. Image from a 1991 calendar.
My memories are not just my hometown, though. The smell of cinnamon and molasses reminds me of my Grandma Schwob. She made these delicious baked apples that were topped with little cinnamon red hots AND marshmallows! They had their own apple trees so that added to the deliciousness, I’m sure. I will post her recipe on my food blog, The Heat is ON!, in the near future.
image via Flickr CC by Joey Rozier, photo entitled “naked”
Her molasses cookies were thin, soft and SO good! We spent many, many holidays there, too, so the smell of turkey and dressing brings back memories of their house and of family get-togethers we had there.
Image via Flickr CC, by Jenny Kellerhals
What are your sensory links to your past? to your childhood? I’d be interested to hear.