The smell of childhood


Some things seem to last forever.  Sometimes you can bite into a food, and be instantly transported back in time to a special dinner, a certain holiday, a loved kitchen table.  Sometimes you catch a glimpse of a face or a view or a curving road, and you are flooded with memories of times gone by.

But for me, it is the smells in the world that are the most evocative.  Certain smells are little puffs of time travel, sweeping me back on their fragrant winds.

Yesterday was a hot, dry, sunny day.  I mowed the lawn, and then did a little weeding in the flower beds.  The soil looked powdery and dry, so I set up the sprinkler and turned it on full.  I went inside to watch the Red Sox and read my book.  After an hour or so, I stepped outside and turned the water off.  The sun was shining down hard, and the yard was filled with hot, moist steam, rising off the grass.  Every flower, every leaf, every stem was covered in dazzling diamonds as the sun struck each little drop.  I stood on the steps, in my bare feet, the warm water like a little bath for my wiggling toes.  I breathed in deep, and closed my eyes.

The wet, hot smell of the grass pulled me back, back, back and I could suddenly remember every detail of running through the sprinkler in my family back yard.  I could feel the slickness of the grass on my feet.  My skin remembered the sweet sudden shock of cold drops of water on my sun warmed back.  My lips recalled the taste of those little drops as they made their way down from my wet hair, over my forehead and down my nose, to land as salty treats in my mouth.

I could hear my sister’s voice, laughing, calling, the two of us taking turns running full speed toward the whirling sprinkler, trying to jump right over it as it spun and splashed.  I could see our friends, with their wet ponytails swinging, racing through the cold spray.

I remembered, too, the taste of popsicles, snow cones and drumstick ice creams.  I remembered us all trying to walk on the scorching sidewalk, challenging each other to see who could last the longest.  I remembered the feeling of freedom, the sense that each day would last a week, and each week a year.  The feeling that summer would be an endless stretch of beach trips, waiting for the ice cream man, neighborhood games of “52 Scatter”, and marathon sessions of “Risk”.

I stood on my steps, in my empty, silent yard.  I tilted back my head, drawing in one more summery breath of childhood revisited.  I held that breath for as long as I could, letting it out slowly and with regret. I turned and went back inside.

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