Crayon Time Travel

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.

close up of crayons
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The 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.

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May the smell of clean laundry bring back the time you had no dry underwear and since we didn’t have a dryer we were forced to improvise.
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More Than Coffee

Walk into my kitchen right this moment and you might think you smell coffee, freshly brewed and filling the room with it’s 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.

Memories.

Love.

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.

It’s not just coffee.

_______

Miss you, Maggie.

Bookends and Swings

“Are you taking just the Bookends then?” Bearded Husband asked as I headed out the door. That was a new nickname he came up with as I got ready to take our oldest and youngest to the park. The Middles were happy playing Camp in our bedroom, so I opted to leave them be.

Off we went, the Bookends and me. Those two boys look the most alike of the four. Watching the toddler sometimes takes me back eight years to that special time I had with just #1.  We don’t often have a lot of time together, just me and the Bookends, my babies.

As we walked to the park, Oldest asked Little if he wanted a piggyback ride because, “I can do that you know, Mommy.”  I remember giving you all kinds of piggyback rides, baby, and am glad you still ask for them albeit less often.

Oldest raced to the swings, his main reason for coming along. He loves to scale the poles and climb. He is particularly fond of swinging higher and higher and then jumping off.  I stopped myself from saying “be careful” and instead admired his abilities. I remember when the slide was too scary to try without me, buddy, now look what you can do.

“Watch me, Mommy! See what I did, Little? Want to come on the swings with me?”

Little raced over and hopped onto the swing beside his biggest brother.

“No high, Mommy, no high.”

“Go high?”

“Yeah, no, no high.”

“Not too high?”

“Yeah.”

You got it, baby boy. 

And there I was pushing my Bookends on the swings. Memories of taking #1 to the park just the two of us came flooding back, followed by snapshots of each of my boys at that age. The giggles, the grins, grabbing their little feet.

“I want to swing at the same time as Little,” Oldest asked. So I changed the pace so they could swing side by side. They grinned at each other, swinging in tandem. But slowly, Oldest was going higher and faster again and they were back to their own rhythms. After a few moments, Oldest abandoned the swings and Little started to follow. I sat down and slowly began swinging on my own. And I thought, this is how it’s going to be. My boys are becoming their own persons.

Then my Oldest, my original baby boy, turned back and came to push me. And Little hopped onto my lap. And I could smell the sand and heat from his neck and see Oldest’s shadow as he gave us one last push before climbing a new challenge. I watched him scale the fire pole with Little cuddling with me and I realized: This is how it is supposed to be. 

We walked home for dinner and Little decided it was okay to hold our hands. As we walked along, Oldest and I did “One, Two, Three…Wheee!” and swung Little repeatedly the whole way. Yesterday, I was the little one being swung, I blinked and I was the one swinging. Slow down, slow down.

“We don’t have time like this very often, just the three of us do we, Mommy?”

No, baby, but we should. We will, my Bookends.