A welcome to readers

As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sentimental Journey at Home: Faberge, Raspberries and Crayons

I don't need a car for trips. All I need to do is to keep alert to my senses here at home, and then fuel up the old brain and memory and re-experience "trips" I've taken in the past. Sometimes mental trips "occur" quite by accident, but other times, I take them deliberately. Many, but not all,
of my accidental trips are initiated by my olfactory acuity which, as you may know, is legendary.

For example, not long ago while walking through Macy's on my way to the mens' department, I was brought up short by intense stabs of something like nostalgia, or a deep sense of loss, a little fear, combined with  a split second of sexual arousal. On its own, my mind filled up with memories of hot Southern nights, soft skin, insistent kisses, apprehension,  and the thrill of a novice's exploration of forbidden territory.

I stopped in my tracks and wondered what in the world could pull me up so short in the middle of a Department Store, especially when my mind was focused on the sale I was about to scout out in the shoe department. I looked around for the stimulus; nothing obvious in sight. Then I became aware that I was standing in the midst of the ladies' cosmetics department which was rife with a kaleidoscope of scents, to mix a metaphor. Knowing myself pretty well, and being used to the impact that odors have on me, I began to sniff.  Incredibly, in the midst of literally thousands of fragrances, my nose had picked out one, an ancient one which had once had particular meaning for me-- picked it out from a multitude of perfume scents of flowers, spices, herbs, resins, barks, etc. Incredible! Sniffing helped me find that whole experience again,  drawing with it some disdainful looks from the designer-clad soccer moms walking nearby. My gut also reminded me of how sadly that original encounter had ended.

The scent which my nasal apparatus had selected from a vast menu of thousands of aromatics was "Tigress." an older perfume, made by Faberge, and difficult to find these days. It was the perfume worn by my first college "love," we didn't have "lovers" in those days. It was she who taught me, within very strict limits,  of course, that having a sensual side was OK for a man. Tigress, um. I hadn't  smelled that perfume in 50+ years, yet there it was in Macy's, in my nose/brain, and apparently in my heart as well.That was an unplanned trip for sure.

Here's another. When I taste raspberries, red ones, I am taken immediately back to the side of Pine Mountain in Kentucky, to my grandparents' home perched there under the tall sycamores, walnuts, maples, and Buckeyes looking out over the Cumberland River and L+N Railroad tracks in the valley below. In my mind's trip, I can see the flock of chickens out back, smell their feed stored  in the drawers of an old ice chest on the slanty-floored back porch, and hear Grandma Stone, on our way to her large berry patch,  beating her boiling pot with a metal spoon and shouting out her warning: "Now get outa here you rattle snakes and copperheads.  Here comes Grandma Stone to pick berries."

The sight of raspberries growing on that hot mountainside was blissful, but nothing compared to the treat that Grammy prepared for us when we returned to the house. The raspberries, still a little warm from the sun, were covered with cold Jersey cream which Grandma Stone  had separated earlier by placing a quart Ball canning jar of fresh milk on the moving  treadle of her ancient Singer sewing machine. I can still see and taste it all.

The  treat was finished up with a pinch of sugar as light "frosting" for the berries, a precious gift in wartime rationing. As a city boy, this red and white mixture was as close to heaven as I figured I'd ever get. To complete this picture with all my senses firing, I would need to add the aroma of stale Camel cigarette smoke and lamp kerosene to the olfactory mix. I have both in my memory bank.

Red raspberries have just been on sale in the local market here in Denver and so Liz and I have eaten many pints with yogurt, on cereal, in smoothies, or just plain; but alas, no Jersey cream. Makes no difference.  All I have to do is bite or smell a red raspberry and I take a sensuous mental trip back to the Kentucky mountains. Not the real thing to be sure, but those berry memories are a worthy substitute for the real thing when all I can take is a sentimental journey.

Then there's the Crayons.  Ah yes; I have a collection of Crayolas displayed on a special bookshelf in the entry hall of my apartment here in Denver. On it are unopened boxes of crayons. Some are commemorative or yearly anniversary collections, some feature old colors while others show-case new ones. I have boxes with as few as six crayons, and modern assortments, in see-through plastic cases, one with 120 and and another that claims 200. "What's the big deal with the crayons? you ask. Well, here's the story.

I began my fascination with color even before kindergarten. The colors I found in nature had always intrigued me. I was blessed by being born in an area of the country which had high humidity and a long growing season and so the variety of colors displayed for me by Nature was extravagant, bordering on excessive. Unfortunately,  those colors,  I learned,  were only temporary, coming and going with the frosts and seasons. But when I went to kindergarten, I discovered a source of colors which was more permanent: crayons.  The boxes of fanned-out, paper-covered,  blunt-pointed, pencil-size and quaintly-named little sticks of color really caught my attention. As I used them,
I memorized many of their names, and some, like baseball players, became my favorites: turquoise blue, violet, magenta, cornflower, blue green, and even their strange cousins the siennas and umbers.

During my early years I amassed a fair number of crayon stubs--no crayon sharpeners on the boxes then--some protected by shreds of their original protective wrapping,  but most just short, unclothed tag ends showing little of their former elegant size and shape. The color of each one, however, was still electrifying, singly or in combination, I couldn't throw away even the smallest of my little friends. I kept my  growing collection in a round cake tin with a snap on lid (which could also be spun like a modern day Frisbee).

One day, after coloring, I dutifully put away my crayons, out of the way on the living room window sill. When I returned to take them up the next day, I discovered that I had unthinkingly put the cake tin on a sill which received the full force of the morning summer Kentucky sun, and when I peered inside the box, all I saw was a melted mass of color, now hardened as it cooled,  into a flat pancake of blended together color resembling a lava flow. I  wailed in mourning,but assuaged myself with the certainty that my benevolent mom would "feel my pain" and head to the store for replacements. I was wrong.  It was an occasion for her to "teach me a lesson" about responsibility. "You will get no new crayons because you have showed me that you are not responsible enough to keep them safe." "Crayons are expensive; money doesn't grow on trees." "When you earn your own money, you can buy crayons yourself." "Maybe your sister will let you borrow hers." And, "Big boys don't cry about melted crayons; now go to your room and don't come out until you have put on your 'sunshine suit.'"

From that day to the present, the waxy scent of crayons or a display of a variety of colors of various hues and shades of anything, brings me to a fever pitch of excitement--of desire, of the urge to buy and have "for my own" these tangible pieces or fragments of beauty. I want to have them and to control their destinies. The combination of sight and smell of crayons, specifically crayolas by Binney and Smith, even at my advanced age, take me on such a wonderful interior sentimental journey that I can hardly stand it. To preserve thos feelings,  I have my crayon collection displayed in the front entrance hall where I have to pass them, see them, and smell them many times a day.

Fortunately, I have less opportunity these days to smell "Tigress" and live through that trip again. But, "hey," there are always raspberries and crayons to take me far from home,  or maybe back home, most anytime I want to go,  on yet another sentimental journey. That's an easy way to avoid the financial costs associated with real travel, and there are no State Troopers along the way to monitor my direction or speed.

1 comment:

  1. Reading over this blog, I could envision every aspect you wrote about, down to the "melted" crayons....however, I don't have any recognition to "Tigress" perfume. I do, however, have memories of my Mom when I see and smell Channel No.5 perfume, as that is what my Dad bought my Mom every Christmas, whether she needed it or not. Oh the memories that came flooding my mind as I read this.

    I, too, was born in Kentucky. The area being Harlan, Harlan County, Ky., known, famously, for the Hatfields' & McCoys' feud over the years. Amazingly enough, heard in news about 2 years ago, that long running feud has been settled. Oops, little off track.

    My grandfather was a coal miner who ended up with a condition known as "Black Lung" and had to quit the mine. One of the memories I still live is when we would travel from Ga to Ky, in the late night hours, "Big Daddy" (what I called him) would meet us at the front door and take me straight to the kitchen for a dose of Pepto Bismol for my car sickness of the mountain roads. One of the last things he was going to do for my Mom was come to Ga and build her a white picket fence as he did carpentry work in his later years; however, that visit never happened; he passed away in 1961.

    Thanks for sharing your special memories; it allowed me to visit some fond memories of my own.

    Ga Peach