Sunday, March 17, 2013

Smells from the past

They say that the sense of smell is the strongest for invoking memories. I believe it! Some of my earliest memories flood back in when I smell certain things.

The smell of spaghetti sauce and cheddar cheese is one of those memory triggers for me. Before I started school, nearly every Friday, we would spend the day at my grandmother’s house. The day would start early as Mom gathered us up into the family car and Dad would drive us over to Southside on his way to work. Grandma’s house was on Atlantic Boulevard near San Marco. So he had to cross the river twice to get us there then drive downtown to his job. Lunch for us was always the same and even today is one of my favorites. Grandma would break out her big iron skillet and prepare her meatless spaghetti sauce from scratch. First the tomatoes; cut up fine and mixed with the onions and other spices. While the base mix is simmering, the pasta goes into the boiling water and gets cooked. It is starting to smell just right. While that was cooking, the tomato sauce, no tomato paste in this recipe, went in to the simmering mix. At the very end would come grated cheddar cheese followed immediately with the drained pasta all mixed together in the skillet and served piping hot to our waiting plates! The magic is complete.

More often than not, dessert would be some of her home baked cherry pie hot from the oven where it was baking and filling the house with the most delicious odor. She would be putting the finishing touches on the pie when we walked through the door. If we were early enough, we could help lay the strips of dough criss-cross atop the cherry filling, trim the ends and mash them into the bottom crust with a fork. She believed in the open top pie so those luscious red cherries could be free to bubble up and occasionally over the side of the pie plate. After lunch, we all retired to her front porch to watch the traffic pass by and the squirrels play in the park across the street.

I loved Grandma’s front porch. There was so much to see. Atlantic Boulevard was much busier than the suburban street where we lived. After an afternoon of playing in the back yard and sometimes watching the Landon High School football team practice in the field behind her house, we would return to the front porch to sit in the big rocking chairs and wait for Dad to return from work to drive us home. It was a special time when the street lamps came on. Grandma would quietly tell us of the time when the streetlamps were gas and the lamplighter would come down with the wick in his hand lighting each one at dusk. That was way before my time but I can just imagine what that must have been like.

The other big trigger smells for me are coconut oil and vinegar. That might seem strange to you but back in my pre-teen years, those were the smells of the beach. Coppertone was just about the only sun tan lotion available. Notice I did not say sun screen! There was no UV protection in the early product but they did help you tan not burn. One of the signs of spring in Florida was the blooming of the Coppertone billboards; you remember the ones, the ones with the little blond girl running down the beach with the puppy in chase, grabbing the back of her swim suit and exposing the tan line running across her lower back. When we saw those signs, we knew that trips to the beach would be soon following.

Vinegar however was used as much for sunburn relief as an ingredient for salad dressing. Especially late spring and early summer, before we built up our base summer tans, we would get light sunburns at the beach or the lake. Most likely we would not realize that we were burned until that evening when it was time to wash the salt water and sand off and get ready for bed. Mom would grab the bottle of white vinegar off the shelf and gingerly apply it to our burned shoulders and backs. The pain from her light touch quickly gave way to a wave of cooling relief as the vinegar evaporated. Some evenings, it took several applications before we could finally get to sleep. The next morning, the stinging was always gone.

So – spaghetti sauce, cheddar, vinegar and coconut oil are some basic memory triggering odors for me. They bring back memories of family fun and sometimes too much fun. Good memories! Oh MY!

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