They say smell is the sense most closely associated with memories. When I think back on my childhood, there are a lot of powerful memories associated with smells.
Now, you might be thinking things like the beautiful fragrance of a fresh box of crayons on the night before school starts back, or maybe my mother’s cooking coming out of the kitchen. Yes, those things are all there, but some of my best memories are associated with lovely aromas such as:
and smell of smooshed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that have been sitting inside a plastic lunchbox all morning.
These smells describe a near perfect day in the life of little Christina.
The smooshed peanut butter sandwich would have been my lunch at school. I loved learning, but I never really liked being at school. I was terrified of doing something wrong. I was especially afraid of the lunch line and the weird foods that the kids ate at school. Oh sure, I would have eaten the “Macho Nachos” or the rectangular pizza, but most days the food on those plastic trays looked icky and the lunch ladies were intimidating. I was especially grateful for a mom who prepared a lunch for me. Every day, I’d open my lunch box and that strong smell would hit me, and it was like a little reminder of home: a sign that I was loved and special to someone.
After school, I was usually lucky enough to get to spend a few hours playing outdoors with the kids in my neighborhood. One of my best friends, Jessica, lived on another street. Both our streets were dead end roads, but they ran perpendicular and almost met. At the end of her street and mine was a big open field. On one end of the field was a creek behind a patch of thick bamboo. In the spring, that creek area was marshy and wet and millions of little wild onions would grow. I loved pulling them up and pretending to be some vagrant child foraging in the woods or something.
On the other end of the field, near the streets, there was a concrete platform about three feet tall and eight by eight feet square. In the center was a manhole cover and the whole thing smelled faintly of sewage. Not so unpleasant that you couldn’t stand to be there, but that odor was unmistakable. Despite the slight stench, the platform made a great play space. We could climb on it and pretend it was a house, a stage, a landing platform for a spaceship… Whatever sort of “base” our imaginations needed, it was just the right thing for defining the space.
As the sun started to set, we would pedal our bicycles home, racing fast enough to make our hair blow in the wind. If it wasn’t harvest season, my dad might be getting home from work on the farm. His pickup truck would grumble up the road scattering diesel fumes and black land dirt.
If it was summer, my sister and friends would ride our bikes down the road and around the corner to my grandparents’ house where we would spend hours upon hours in their above ground swimming pool. My grandmother, Mama B, would bring us chicken patty sandwiches and fun size snickers and beg us to apply some sunscreen–we almost never did. When Daddy Dee, my grandfather, would come home from the golf course or visiting residents at the nursing home, he would check the pool chemicals and temperature. He could guess the temperature within a degree just by touching the water.
You may turn your nose up at chlorine or diesel. Smooshed peanut butter and wild onions aren’t exactly candidates for a scented candle. And I bet none of you have a pleasant connotation for a faint sewage odor, but to me, these smells transport me back to a world where I knew only love, nurture, and imagination.
I’m one of the lucky ones.
I had a really great, stinky childhood.