Monday, 07 October 2013
Can You Smell It?
By Marcy Belson
I am always surprised, when remembering a summer day, what I remember first is the smell.
There was the wonderful smell of excelsior, used to pad the desert coolers. The water ran through from the top to bottom and the fan blades moved the air over that pad with a result of humid, cool air rushing out of the window box. I loved that smell.
I remember the smell of Kool-Aid in a frosty clear pitcher set on a refrigerator shelf. It was so sweet but with the addition of ice cubes, another way to deal with the terrible summer heat in the desert.
I remember the smell of hay. My father, uncle and cousin would come back to the house for lunch each day.
The routine was for the radio in the corner of the living room to be set on news with Gabriel Heatter. Then, all three of them would take a spot on the rug, lie down and use their arms as pillows for their heads, listen to the news, catnap and wait for my mother to call out, "Lunch is on the table.”
Because they had spent the morning baling hay in the fields and men's pants had trouser cuffs in those days, my routine was to sit at their feet and clean out the hay that had accumulated in their cuffs. I suppose my mother then used a broom or vacuum on the living room rug to pick up the hay I dropped.
I don't remember her ever telling me not to make a mess but then, she was in the kitchen getting a large hot meal ready for three hungry men.
That was after she had fixed them breakfast at 5AM, sent them off with thermos of lemonade, then started the washing and ironing - all three of those men put on two ironed long sleeved shirts, six days a week. I suppose, on Sundays, they only dressed once.
She washed and starched the shirts so I figure she did 39 starched shirts per week. I'm not getting into the pants she washed and ironed, plus my school dresses and play clothes. She never wore anything but ironed dresses and heels and a starched apron.
She did wear women's jeans to fish in the boat.
She was the last of the real ladies.
She canned food, she did most of the yard work, she did all the bookkeeping for my father's business.
She decided the nuns were going to convert me to Catholicism when I was in the fifth grade, so she marched over to the convent and informed them that while the rest of my class studied catechism, I was to be given extra math. Without a word to me, that was exactly what happened. My mother was pleased with her solution.
The nuns never said a word. Maybe they knew they had won that battle and graciously let my mother think she had won. I was baptized as a young adult.
Well, back to the smells of summer. The town of Julian was a smell in it's own category. The temperature would rise in the afternoons to about 80 degrees in August and the waist-high weeds were perfume to me.
We had a porch the length of the summer cabin with wicker chairs and big cushions. My cousins and I would sit out under the shade of the big trees and play Monopoly or some other card game drinking lemonade and the heat of the day would bring that smell. I can't identify it, it was heat and weeds and it will always be my favorite summer smell.
Then there was the smell and feel of the thunderstorms in Arizona. You could look west and see them coming from the Sea of Cortez.
It would be hot and humid and suddenly a crash of thunder and a zig-zag of lightning. The fresh smell of rain, lots of rain, the streets flooded, the dips in the road filled, tempting drivers to try to outwit the fast moving water. Every year, at least one death from that attempt.
Another summer smell was my grandmother's house in Arkansas. I think those cedar closets had a stronger smell of cedar when the days were warm and the house was still.
Then there was the smell of chicken and dumplings, fresh green beans from the garden, milk from my grandfather's cow and a dining room filled with family, all laughing and complaining and now - all gone. I am the last of the old ones.
There are a few younger cousins, they are the kids, now in their sixties, but they have their own memories.
I have no idea what the smells were in the cities. I only know about little towns where people worked outside no matter what the weather and a tiny mountain town.
They will always be there, unchanged, in my memories.
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