Sunday, October 27, 2013

Smells take me right back to a perfect moment from childhood

This street scene in Fairbury, Nebraska, looks a lot like the town I remember driving into one dawn in the 1960s.

Twice this week as I drove to work - past Matt's Big Breakfast in downtown Phoenix - I smelled a smell from childhood.  This smell was not like remembering Pixie Sticks or Sugar Daddy's or mom's meatloaf.  I smelled something that took me back to one particular day on one particular family road trip.

As I cruised by Matt's Big Breakfast, the air was filled with what I can only describe as the smell of burnt coffee mixed with maple syrup.  

When we were little, my brothers and I had a 5-year stint in Bellevue, Nebraska, a suburb of Omaha right next to Offutt Air Force Base, aka SAC Headquarters, where my dad spent his days.  We spent our days running wild, playing in a big open field at the end of the runway, riding bikes, going to school and listening to The Beatles and The Supremes.

 Every once in a while my Mom would drive us nearly 500 miles from Bellevue to Aurora, a suburb of Denver, to visit my aunt, her sister.

There we would sit in the kitchen listening to stories about the family, my aunt smoking Kents, playing a fast game of solitaire. Or we'd sit on the back porch, shelling peas. My aunt and uncle were transplanted farmers who had the biggest, bestest vegetable garden in this suburb.  

But that smell...  that smell came much earlier. 

On the morning of our drives to Colorado, my mom woke us up way before daylight. She'd hustle us into the car, pile us into the big back seat and hand us a box of donuts.  The donuts were not necessary; we fell fast asleep, the car and the world were still dark and we knew there were pancakes in our future.
That smell...   On this one trip, in this one small Nebraska farm town that has stayed so vividly in my mind, I was already awake as we pulled in. It was daylight, but only just. We were quiet in the backseat; we hadn't started any competitions yet; counting windmills, spotting cows, thumb wrestling. 

We pulled up on what felt like the edge of a town so small it really may have been the center. We were headed to a coffee shop for breakfast, such a big kid thing to do.

As we pulled in, my chest was filled with the excitement of an adventure ahead, the comfort of being in Mom's big boat of a car and heading to see family. We'd hit the road and now we were stopping for breakfast. All was right with my world.

And the air was filled with the smell of burnt coffee mixed with maple syrup.

To this day I have no idea what the smell really is. It doesn't matter.  That smell is love.

Robin, Phoenix


Anonymous said...

A beautifully told story. I didn't expect the ending to be about Love. But, the entire experience was about just that. Love of Adventure. Love of Life. Love of Good Smells. Love of Music. Love of Family. Love of Good Memories.

Robin J Phillips said...

Thank you, Anon.
Almost all of my perfect moments eventually come back to love. Glad you liked my roadtrip story.

Hazel Lee said...

That's beautiful, Robin. It's pretty amazing how certain smells can bring back memories. And it's wonderful that you had such great memories of love in your childhood.

Robin J Phillips said...

Thank you, Hazel.
The smell brought me right back to that town. The act of writing this story Helped bring up memories of shelling peas and counting windmills. That's one reason I love writing.

Thanks for reading my posts.

Lori Lavender Luz said...

How evocative! As I read your post I think of pre-dawn road trips in our own boat-of-a-car, the games my sisters and I invented to pass the miles, and the sense of family that comes from such togetherness.

Mmmmm...I can practically smell what you describe.

Thanks for starting out my day with this, Robin xoxo.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful story told so vividly. It evoked my own memories of family car trips. I love the details you include (my favorite is that your chest was filled with the excitement) and your conclusion that that smell is love. Such a great piece, so glad I read it.

Robin J Phillips said...

Thank you, MomoSapien, for your kind words. This piece rolled around in my head a few days. And then on Sunday, I sat up wide awake at 6 a.m. Got right up and wrote this down.

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