Monday, May 23, 2016

(...take a deep breath) AH! Smell that?

Herewith three vignettes about memories evoked by a smell.
I am in 10th grade in high school. This school is new to me, having recently been in a school system in another country. I have never been in an American high school before.
 As best I can, I settle into the routine. First, the relatively long bus ride. Just enough time to check out a couple of guys who get on the bus after me. They're cute.

Then school. We all hurry inside. And make our way to lockers, then homerooms. Soon the school bell sounds and we dutifully rise and "pledge allegiance to the flag." This is new to me, but I get the hang of it. And now classes begin. I have the usual round of classes--English, history (Pennsylvania history, I think), math (I get a pass on algebra having taken that in my prior school--not that it did any good--so business math for me), phys ed, and Latin. Of course, Latin. I don't remember much from that year but I remember Latin--oh, I suppose a bit of the language seeped through to me (I know many of the Latin words that helped shape the English language). But I do remember how to wolf whistle. Yup--learned that in Latin.

The one break during the day is lunch. And with it, foods that, though not unfamiliar, were not the common fare I had eaten in boarding school. You could tell by the smell what was for lunch that day. Barbecue sandwiches, pork and sauerkraut, hot dogs. I don't recall all, but even now--the smell of barbecue or sauerkraut transports me back to 10th grade.


As I enter the large room, I can immediately smell the touch of mold, mingled with lingering bath soap, laundry soap, perfume. And occasionally a whiff of food--probably from a covered dish supper. There is also the smell of books, and well-worn wood. The whole room is over-heated but that gives it a welcoming feel--like being enfolded in the arms of a grandparent who loves you and hugs you tight.

The room is dimly lit, and very quiet. There is a light buzz of voices, but mostly whispering. As I sit down, I look around.  There are some of my uncles and aunts, and my cousins. Probably my Pappap as well. Grandma must have been there, but I don't remember that.

I am in the small church where my mother grew up.  And now today, when I enter a small country church, all those smells hit me, and I am once again in that church from my childhood.


Late at night the plane landed. I had flown from the U.S. to London, then had a long lay-over at Heathrow (I over-estimated how much time I would need to connect planes).  Since the plane departed a bit later than scheduled, I missed the opportunity to see the sun set over the Sahara.  

With the usual delay in deplaning, my anticipation builds. I am going to see my daughter who is in a four month internship working on an art project.  The coolness of the airplane begins to dissipate. And as the cabin door opens, it becomes clear that the weather is not the same as Pennsylvania in November (from where I had departed), nor London. In fact, it is down-right steamy.

As I step off the plane, and down the ladder (no connecting tunnels at this airport),  I am immediately hit with a wave of intense humidity. And that smell.

I breathe deeply--wood fire smoke mingled with sweat of humanity. I take another deep breath--hold it, and then say (in my mind at least) -- AFRICA. After a more than 40 year absence, I am back.



Anvilcloud said...

Three for the price of one. I have none.

Jayne said...

So powerful how those smells evoke such different memories.

Mary Lee said...

Perfectly awesome! I can't wait to read more.

You made me recall my Latin class in high school. I had Miss Parker, the same Latin teacher that my mother had when she was in high school. When Mother learned that, she said, "Miss Parker was the only teacher I ever had that slapped me." I was terrified of a similar fate; the seating plan had me on the front row. I'd never thought of my mother as a rebel. She said that Miss Parker had called on her to read and Mother had said that she couldn't-- that Page 83 was missing from her book. Miss Parker very sarcastically asked, "Are there any OTHER pages missing from your book?" Mother said that she hesitated a moment, then answered, "Page 84." And that's when she got smacked. I made sure there were no pages missing from my textbook!

To go back to this place after having lived in other worlds must put things in a completely different perspective. I hope you'll share! Have a wonderful adventure!

NCmountainwoman said...

I can identify with the first two smells. And I'm certain Africa does indeed have a unique smell. Lovely post.

Ginnie said...

Memories triggered by smell ... I love them and thanks for sharing yours.

Ruth said...

When I get off the plane in Mexico, I can identify the country by the smell too. Your description of the church reminded me of some old libraries I have been in.