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Friday, February 6, 2009

sense memory

         I am fascinated by sense memory, by the way a certain feeling, place, even smell can bring back a time gone by with all the rush and clarity of no time having gone by at all.  


         If I ever smell the shampoo, Outrageous, I am instantly brought back to my second summer at the Chautauqua Institute. I am closed within a small room, with Christine's bed opposite mine; pictures from home are plastering my space, it's a makeshift wallpaper that bears my heart. I wear cut-off jean shorts that are scandalously short over my skinny legs, but that doesn't become apparent to me until long afterward, when I reminisce while looking through pictures of that summer in upstate New York.  I am surprised by those jean shorts and the length of legs they didn't cover. They put the short in shorts. But I digress...

        It has been a while since I have smelled Outrageous, but all those memories are interconnected with that perfumed smell. 

        Or when I look at a large van--you know, the kind that those large homeschool families are wont to drive around? I would know, because I belong to one. Though we have since morphed from that...Anyway, I remember so clearly going with my brother Jonathan and my pop to the dealership to test drive a super big van. 

        At least, to our easily impressed selves, it was Noah's Ark that could go down I-95. Minus a few animals. 

        We talk excitedly back and forth, imagining what life could bring if we met it armed from within this van. We dream of the basketball games we could play in the large space in the back while pop navigates and gets us to wherever we need to go. In this van, the destination isn't all that important--not when you have all the space in the world and an imagination ready to fill it with fun while you are doing that necessary chore of being driven.  

    And best of all, our parents do buy the Dodge Ram van. It is huge. And it can go fast. We buckle up, roll down the windows, and chant, 30! 30! 30! with our fists pumping in the air like we are rallying the troops. We don't know that 30 miles per hour isn't anywhere near fast--and pop doesn't have the heart to break it to us; he just drives fast and lets us think that it is because we are calling out, 30! 30! 30!

    The smell of roses bring me back to the rosebush my first major crush had the creativity and foresight to give me. Not just roses that bloom for a while but wilt all too soon--no, he gives me a rosebush, so that I can appreciate it over and over again, year after year, as he puts it with just the right bit of sentiment. 

   And I did, long after our own romance had wilted.  

    The look of cranberry glass brings me back to my Mimi, who had a whole wall of the direly fragile stuff, stacked ceiling high, in her home in Naples. The thought of knocking into that and bringing down both the judgement of our Mimi and the disappointment of our parents on our heads keep us tip-toeing around her living room each visit. And that cranberry glass--combined with the alligator living in Mimi's backyard--makes Mimi's home a place that instills in us both joy and fear, all at once.  
   
   Needless to say, visits to Mimi's house were always accompanied by some very serious speeches from our parents that strictly forbade us from the backyard(and its gator!) and the cranberry glass. 

   Not that we really wanted much to do with either, anyway. 

   I am grateful for these smells and sights that creep up, seemingly out of nowhere, and act as clues, revealing our yesterdays, our youth, our beginnings. They are cords of steel that link us to a past that it is good to not forget, I think. 

8 comments:

Mom said...

Oh, Jess....I'm so amazed that you chose today to write about memories. I'm on my way to a bookclub for empty-nesters. We're reading a book and I was surprise....no, startled...at how the 1st 3 chapters in the book brought on so much pain at having my kids all grown up! Of course, I WANTED my kids to grow up, but nothing prepared me for how I would feel when they actually DID! I miss being needed in that way. I'm not lonely for more friends, I'm lonely to be a mom who is needed once again. In that way. With that kind of intensity. Those memories are so precious! Thanks for sharing them!

Jessica Latshaw said...

Mom--what are you talking about?! We do need you. Absolutely. No matter how old a kid gets (or is NO longer a kid!), they always need their mom.

Hope the book club is fun and not too sad;-)

Nina said...

I think memories brought on by smell are the most intense ones. If I ever smell ivory dishwashing liquid, I am instantly transported to my grandfather's kitchen in a Vermont farmhouse, and then I feel like I'd give anything to travel back to those clear blue-green summer days and play marbles or hunt around for kittens.

And that cracked me up about the big vans of homeschoolers! I was at Kohls last night (Sale!) and I watched a number of girls (and their mom)tumble out of such a van, and I thought, "Homeschoolers." It never occurred to me that they weren't.

Jessica Latshaw said...

lol, Nina--it's so true. I always know a homeschooling family--and I can say that without judgement since I was one;-)

kathiek said...

Every time I smell Jergen's Lotion (the original scent), it reminds me of my maternal grandmother.

Whenever the Jerry Lewis MD Telethon comes on it reminds me of staying up all night to watch it with my Uncle Bob.

Brooklyn reminds me of Nathan every time I look at her.

Jessica Latshaw said...

I wear Jergen's lotion right now (oringal, baby!)--so I suppose I would remind you of your grandmother. How sweet!

kathiek said...

She was sweet, feisty, she loved Jesus, she sang, played the piano, and wrote songs...you guys actually have a lot in common!

kathiek said...

BTW, Jess, next time I see you don't freak out if I smell your hands and neck, okay?! ;-)