September 3, 2015

The Good Smells Of Childhood

Quince2

Quince2

I was always a “noticing” kind of person. Good smells always put me in a certain frame of mind. Some were cozy, some exciting, some, downright appetite provoking.

This is just a sort of reminiscence of the ones I remember, in no particular order.

The smell of the people around me was most likely some of my first memories. Mom always smelled of cigarettes, coffee and on special occasions when I was very young there was the fragrance of Tweed perfume. I imagine she had it from before she was married and it always made me think of her life in Seattle where she lived with her parents before she married my dad. In later years she wore violet perfume on special occasions because we had found a source for it when we lived in Iowa and she would wear it when she knew we would be seeing each other. She also wore Charlie, which I didn’t especially like, but she did.

My grandma Yates always had the fragrance of face powder and toilet water. A sweet, older lady smell that was light and not overpowering. I don’t remember a particular fragrance my grandma Moline wore. I know she used Oil of Olay though because I remember seeing it on her dressing table.

My dad was fond of Mennen after shave, and his dad liked to wear the simple smell of “I just shaved”, as in the lingering odor of the shave cream he wiped off.

Where we lived, at the end of Dennis Street in Tumwater, Washington, was a seasonal mix of spring, summer and fall smells. I guess winter had a smell too, if you count the Christmas tree (a real one, cut in our back field) in the house. Spring seemed to erupt in our front yard with everything at once. The people who had lived in our house prior to us had planted bulbs and shrubs that were well-established by the time we moved in during the early 1950’s. I probably visit these memories of my childhood yard more often than I should, but this was part of “my world” and I cherish them.

It was the bulbs that came up first in the yard. Old ones like muscari and snow drops. Then, the irises would peek their pointy leaves up from the cold ground and signal the advent of more to come. All of this was followed quite closely by the buds on the quince bush, the sweet smell of the lilacs and the apple and cherry trees bursting into bloom.

Mom was never one to stifle our creativity, so she willingly let us raid her sewing cabinet for thread and needle to string leis of quince flowers as our own tribute to celebrating the spring equinox. The poor visitors to our house in spring were always gifted with sprigs of lilacs to put in makeshift vases until they could carry them home.

Summer brought the seasonal smells of dry grass, or the lovely aroma of wet dry grass after a summer shower. Although I’m writing about smells, I remember those summer mornings when I’d wake up and hear through the early morning summer stillness birds like the ubiquitous robins, the sparrows and chickadees.

I didn’t get much chance to go camping when I was younger, but I did get to sleep outside in the front yard in a sleeping bag with a comfy air mattress for cushion. Waking up in the early, early misty morning air was almost intoxicating. So close to the earth you can almost feel it breathe. I would just lay there and drink in the quiet.

Other smells come to mind too. That wonderful new baby doll plastic smell, the minty fragrance of Doublemint gum when grandma would open her purse when we were sitting in the pew at church on Sundays. How did she know I needed something to stave off ‘starvation’? I suspect she might have been treated to the same thing herself when she was growing up.

Is there nothing more warm and inviting than going through the door of someone’s house whose been cooking a turkey since the wee hours of the day? The sage smell of the dressing; the crispy skin done to perfection by a veteran cook; and all the other smells like candles burning, fresh homemade yeast biscuits coming out of the oven, a recently ironed white damask table cloth, and the blackberry cobbler tempting us to skip the main course and dive right into it.

My life has been constantly assailed by food smells, environmental smells like the brewery, a pulp mill, the smell of my dad when he would come home from working with wood all day and there was a mixture of good honest sweat along with sawdust. One facet of life, the smells, but oh so memorable.

© Carol Yates Wilkerson 2015 – All Rights Reserved

My Favorite Fork

Fave fork corners

 

Fave fork corners

For whatever reason, my mom and dad used their wedding silver and china when we were kids. I don’t know if they just didn’t have the money to go out and buy inexpensive dinnerware, but all I can remember was using that, or dishes that came from a gas station or out of a box of laundry soap.

As you know, silver service of the expensive kind was quite heavy and unwieldy which meant that it was a big juggling session for me whenever I would eat. My mom finally had an epiphany and brought home my new fork which you see here. It’s probably a well-known pattern to many, but to me it was from then on “my favorite fork”. It was mine and I was, from then on, the master of my own food consumption (other than cooking it) and this little salad fork is still in my silverware drawer and used quite often. Because I can.

Apparently, it’s called Everglo and I found a listing for it on Replacements. Google to the rescue again!

Replacements photo fork

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Grandma’s Pocketbook

Pocketbook ball closure

Grandma’s Pocketbook

Do you watch Antiques Roadshow, or search for fashion memory-makers like old purses? When I was watching Downton Abbey last night something made me think of my grandma Josie and her pocketbook.

 

 

Grandma never called it a purse. It was always her pocketbook. A name that harkened back to olden times when ladies always carried a fresh hankie in them, along with some mints or gum, a comb and possibly a pen or pencil. I don’t think I ever saw her with anything but a black purse. One of those tapestry looking fabric bags would have been too risqué in Grandma’s opinion.

There was no Coach wallet or anything so upscale inside either. It was probably more like something she got at the five and dime, or the drugstore, for a nominal sum.  It was either a smaller version of the purse with the ball closure, or had a zipper. I think Grandma, ever the practical and frugal lady, even recycled Grandpa’s old coin purses and got another decade or so use out of them!

So what was my fascination with her purse and why do I remember it so well? I think it was my first inkling of what ladies carried their important going-to-town accoutrements in. I was right by her side when she would pay for her groceries. She’d give that clasp a quick turn and delve deep inside with her hand to extract her checkbook or cash. You never spoke to Grandma as she was pay for anything. Gads no!

At the end of the transaction, Grandma would return her wallet or coin purse to the dark confines of the pocketbook, close it with one-handed pressure on either side of the top of the purse and I’d hear that thump-snap of the clasp. It seemed so important somehow. So grown up, and she was so sure of herself. Self-centered little cuss that I was, I probably was already enjoying one of those silly wax bottles with some red sugar syrup inside. Yes, I always persuaded Grandma to buy me something. Groceries in paper bags were taken out to the car and Grandpa would drive us back to their house.

Oh, and by the way, on one of those trips to the store I discovered my Grandma was a thief! Oh yes she was. I saw her take a grape off the stem of a bunch and pop it in her mouth! And then, she didn’t even buy any grapes. I never told a soul…

© Carol Yates Wilkerson – 2012

 

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