“I can try on these ones, right? That’s fine, but not those shoes.”
Correct. Not those ones.
Those ones belonged to her and now they belong to me. They are the best pair I own. Not because they are a certain brand or cost more than others, although they are a very good pair of shoes.
Those shoes were meant for someone else. Someone kind and wise and good who didn’t get a chance to wear them.
The owner of those shoes knew how to make you feel like the smartest person in the room. She listened with focused attention and compassion. There was no judgement, but she could challenge your thinking and loved you even if you didn’t see eye to eye.
She was the organizer of book clubs and prayer journals and pushed us to self-reflect. She valued friendships, relationships, and sincere dialogue.
She was my friend.
She would often arrive early to life group at our home and we would steal a few minutes to unload the frustrations of dealing with our loved ones. We talked about parenting and screen time policies and balancing the demands of family and work life. And she asked good questions about faith and God. It was a time I enjoyed and now I cherish.
Those shoes belonged to someone who was quick to tell you what she admired about you, who freely handed out hugs and arm squeezes. She loved cozy sweaters, chocolate, tea, and wine. Oh, and camping, but I can overlook that.
She is gone, but not entirely.
See, those shoes belonged to someone with vast circles of friends. With her passing those circles have expanded and connected to create a web of relationships. When her girls get together I learn about her crazy summer adventures, her time as a new mom, and how she has impacted so many lives. Her legacy lives on in every telling of those memories.
Those shoes were bought by someone I wish I had had more time with.
So no, son, you can try on any of the shoes in my closet. Have fun, tease me about my fashion choices, hobble around in high heels, but leave those shoes.
I have been inside schools my entire life. First as a student and then for the past two decades as a teacher. That is a lot of hallways, classrooms, and offices. And smells. Oh, the smells. Wet shoes, basketballs, the glue we are no longer allowed to use due to “health concerns”, paint, and crayons.
Any time I smell that sweet tang of a fresh box of crayons I flashback to my elementary school. Not my high school or the first school I taught in. Always and forever that smell reminds me of a very specific time and place. I went there for eight years, but the memory is always of grade three and me wearing a green t-shirt. An oddly specific yet at the same time unimportant memory.
Memories are funny that way.
Just like an 80s sitcom that decided to phone it in and do a flashback episode, I can be instantly transported to the past by just a smell. Maybe it’s my superpower, who’s to say? I have yet to unleash its full potential, that’s for sure, and it is definitely competing with my other power of disposing of secret snack wrappers. But it is real and I feel like it is getting stronger with time, much like the cracking sound my knees make BUT WE AREN’T TALKING ABOUT THAT TODAY.
Every spring when the peonies and lilacs come out I find myself riding my old blue ten-speed bike with a bouquet of freshly-cut flowers for my teacher. They are wrapped in a wet paper towel and I clutch them tightly with one hand while navigating the short ride to school with my other. I can still see them atop Miss Zondervan’s desk in a green vase.
Walking into a home that has coffee brewing is a direct pipeline to my Aunt Steffie’s kitchen on a Sunday morning. Our families alternated homes for post-church “coffee” (it’s a Dutch thing) and one whiff of that sweet elixir being made and I can see the machine in the corner of her kitchen while she places sweets on a plate as if I am standing there today.
Winter brings early evenings, Christmas lights, and cozy fires. I might be in the van or taking a walk when the distinct scent of crackling fire from a nearby home is in the air, and bam! I am in our maroon Oldsmobile 88 on a winter night heading to my Uncle Jake’s house for a Christmas party. The kids all hung out in his basement with the massive console TV and ate chips in freedom from the adults laughing it up in the living room. Those were the nights that if you stayed out of sight long enough your parents forgot you were there and you could stay up extra late with the big kids.
Did you ever have a pair of mittens that fit great when you first got them, but soon the thumb hole on one didn’t line up and you were forced to wear them with your one thumb cramping from being held at a weird angle? That’s not just me, be honest. If I smell a wet wool mitten, I can feel my left thumb tingle with the memory of a pair of mauve mitts from 1980-something. Stacey in my class had the same pair and we often mixed them up when they were drying on the heather in the hallway. But we could always figure out which pair was mine because FAULTY THUMB HOLE.
I could write a whole series of posts on memories conjured up by simple smells:
Jiffy Pop = Mrs. St. Pierre’s house on a Friday night.
Black licorice = the jellybeans my grandpa kept in his shirt pocket.
A freshly-lit candle = my childhood kitchen.
Newly-applied nail polish – getting my nails painted gold by my big sister.
Freshly-scooped pumpkin guts = roasting seeds in kindergarten with Mrs. Laurence.
Just-opened bag of chips = playing games with my cousins at Auntie Ina’s house.
Tim Hortons chocolate dip doughnut = getting ready for a family road trip by picking up a party pack.
These memories seem to all be chunked into my early years. I’m not sure about its significance or if there is any rhyme or reason. But it happens more and more and I’m not complaining.
These are simple memories, not the trips we took or the long-coveted gifts I received. They are every day events. The common factor is that they are all connected to family and friends. Sharing those day-to-day moments with people who mattered are what I keep conjuring.
Sometimes I worry that time is going by too quickly and we haven’t done enough or been enough for our kids. But we eat dinner together, play card games (even though they cheat at Old Maid), brew tea and pop popcorn. Maybe we’re depositing into their olfactory memories and one day the smell of freshly-baked brownies will cause them to pause and call their mom. Or text. I’ll take it.
“Let me see your hands,” she said as she held out her own to me. As she cradled my twelve-year-old hands in hers, my cousin went on to tell me how they looked like my grandmother’s. She gently stroked my fingers and described how kind and gentle my grandma was, how she spoke with her hands flying, the quiet presence she maintained in a loud and rowdy clan.
Grandma was the matriarch of a family of eleven. She had her share of losses and heartbreak, but anytime someone shares a memory of her, it is always one of admiration and fondness.
I’ve been thinking about hands a lot lately. As I clip our boys’ fingernails, I see how much they’re changing. When I type out a new post my own hands catch my eye and I notice the freckle on my left ring finger and how it is slowly fading as I age.
Holding my mom’s hands during church and examining her rings, her fingernails, all the spots and imperfections. She hated her the age spots, but I carefully traced them and memorized the uniqueness that was hers. I can close my eyes now and picture how her hands looked and felt to five-year-old me.
Adolescent me spent Tuesday nights watching “Growing Pains” and “Who’s The Boss” while carefully painting my fingernails. I took meticulous care of each one. Filing, buffing, and pushing back cuticles. These were my glory years – before the endless handwashing, dishwashing, laundry, and scrubbing that came with adulthood. I believe my last manicure was just before our wedding. My nail maintenance is mostly done at stoplights these days. My hands reflect who I am.
You have your grandma’s hands.
Tell me I have tiny fingers. Say that they look like little sausages. Tease me for being a hand-talker. That’s okay. I have my grandma’s hands and I will always be proud of that.
Hands are for helping.
Lend a hand, please.
Did you wash your hands? With soap? Let me see.
Hold my hand, it’s a busy street.
Recently I held my hands up to my oldest’s and noted that mine are not much bigger. Those tiny fingers that curled around my pinkie as I cuddled my newborn are now becoming little man hands. Soon he will have outgrown me.
So I will quietly slip my hand into his and hope he holds it, just a little longer. Because I’m not quite ready to let go. I want him to memorize my hands, trace my emerging age spots, know who I am.
Walk into my kitchen right this moment and you might think you smell coffee, freshly brewed and filling the room with its cozy aroma.
And you would be wrong.
Sure, there is a pot of coffee waiting to be served, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a portal to the past. A glimpse into the summers of yesteryear.
On a summer evening with the windows open and the coffee on, I am transported to my childhood. To summer evenings as the sun slips away and the busyness of the day settles into contented quiet.
I hear the laughter of my extended family as we wrap up our annual holiday weekend barbeque. I detect voices of unseen passers-by taking in an evening stroll behind our house. If you’re still, there’s the sound of the tree frogs, the crickets, a motorcycle far off in the distance, the unique squeak of our backyard gate.
Walk back inside and there’s the aroma again and immediately I’m ten years old, rushing into the house for a drink between rounds of “Ghost in the Graveyard” or “Hide-and-Seek”. I can almost taste the Rice Krispie square I grabbed on my way outside to join in again.
Cousins, friends, family.
It’s not just coffee, it’s the backdrop to hospitality, gathering together, shared moments.
Few things have this power for me. There is a magical force when open windows let in a summer evening breeze and waft that dark elixir into the air.
When I was a kid, my dad would intermittently pop little notes in my lunch bag. “Daaaad. That’s so embarrassing” I would moan after finding one of his I love you, Princess! post-its. (He also liked to torment me by cutting my sandwiches into 8 or more pieces, but that’s a story for another day).
Confession: I acted like it bothered me to discover these written displays of affection, but I secretly liked it. You’re never too old to be surprised at lunch time. Who doesn’t appreciate an unexpected note of encouragement?
Recently I realized that although I occasionally send similar notes to my boys, I could improve my performance in this area. Pinterest will tell you that you should use hand-crafted paper, calligraphy, and flowery rhymes to create odes of love to your offspring, but I’m here to tell you that any gesture is valued. I’ve recommitted to speak love into the lives of my children on a more frequent basis. Won’t you join me?
Here are a few samples, to inspire you on your Affection Journey.
I like to have a theme, but it’s not essential. You be you.
The direct approach is always in style.
Above all, be specific.
Are you with me? Let’s do this.
Have an inspired note you’ve sent with your little angel? Share it over on my Facebook page and help inspire other like-minded parents. Alright, alright, commiserate, we can commiserate together.
When you recall fond memories it’s about something that happened, not a “thing”. Even if it’s a special gift, that Cabbage Patch doll you were longing for, there’s a story behind it. It’s not just the doll, it’s the story of how it became yours. The real gift is the story.
What matters is the story.
My friend and I have an ongoing conversation about how trips and events are special, but what our kids will remember is the time we spent with them. Vacations are great and can be the catalyst for memory-making, but it’s the time we are together that counts.
You know what our boys ask for the most? Aside from treats and screen time, they are kids after all. Our time.
Play with me. Read to me. Listen to me. Tell me I matter. Show me I am important, that I’m valued.
“Can we go to a movie just you and me, Mommy? As part of my birthday present?”
“Wrestle with me, me, Daddy.”
“Can we go on a breakfast date?”
“Will you take just me to the store?”
“Tell us about the time you threw the carrot cake on the ceiling, Daddy.”
“Tell us the story of Uncle Rob running into the glass door.”
“Tell us again about the time your neighbour caught a skunk and Grandpa told you to throw pebbles at the trap to see what would happen.”
“Tell us again how Auntie broke her arm.”
Tell us again.
Stories. Remember? Remember that time?
We’re creating stories with every meal we eat together, with every crazy family dance time, with every time we patiently wait for an unsuspecting family member to exit the washroom so we can yell “Boo!” With every family movie night.
“Remember the time Big poked the kiwi?”
“I didn’t poke it!”
“We saw you!”
“It just looked like I did.”
“I watched you pick it up and your finger went right through the skin.”
“No, the hole was already there.”
I can recite this script verbatim because we have jointly retold it dozens of times. It even has a theme song. It’s become Moyer family folklore. It’s one of our stories.
Remember? Remember that time?
“For Christmas I want to take you for frozen yogurt to that shop you said you wanted to try, Mommy. Can we go today? I can show you how it works, you make it all yourself. I’ve got enough money for both of us.”
And so we add another story to our collection.
“Remember that time we went for yogurt, just the two of us, and I got coconut and gummi worms and you got two flavours?”