Tonight, as I was walking the dog, my senses picked up two things that instantly sent my mind into memory recall. Have you ever had that happen? A smell, a sound, a sight, a taste–something teases one of the human senses and you are instantly transported to a time associated with that something. Sometimes these trips down memory lane are not very much fun. Other times, like tonight, they prove to be a calming effect on the soul and mind.
It was a combination of a sound and a smell that triggered this jog down memory lane for me. On the side of a house we walked past was a small inflatable pool. In it were three kids splashing and having a good time, making the most of a warm summer evening. From that same house came the unmistakable smell of burgers cooking on a grill. The light breeze drove the tantalizing smell my way and instantly I was taken back to my own childhood summer days.
I was fortunate to grow up with a pool in the backyard. In Western New York, many people have swimming pools. There were five in my little circle of neighborhood friends: ours, my next door neighbor and best friend’s Mike’s, the neighbor next to him and also friends Chris and Danny, the neighbor across the street and also friend Vinny, and his neighbor and friends, Andy and Brian. Most days would find us jumping from pool to pool. On days I was alone, I was content to be in the pool by myself. I conjured up many adventures using an old black inner tube from a tire that my dad had patched and brought home from his mechanic’s shop for me.
On weekends, when my dad didn’t work, my mom would usually plan burgers and hot dogs for dinner. Now, if you didn’t grow up in Western New York, you probably have no idea what a Sahlen’s hot dog is. I’m sorry. You really missed out. (My mom still sends them to me so if you ever want to try one, let me know. Dave will cook one up on the grill for you. I promise, you will never want an Oscar Meyer hot dog again.) As mom or dad grilled dinner, I would be playing and splashing in the pool. I was usually given a five minute warning so I would have some time to dry off before dinner–mom didn’t care for me coming to the dinner table in a swimsuit.
That scene is repeated over and over again throughout my summer days spent as a child. Life was so different then. I did not have gadgets that kept me connected 24/7. My dad did not have a cell phone. When he was home he wasn’t working on work stuff. If the phone rang during dinner, we did not answer it. In my dad’s mind, nothing could be as important as sitting down to dinner. For most of my childhood, we didn’t have an answering machine or caller ID either. My dad said if it was important, they would call back. I never remember missing an emergency because we didn’t answer the phone every time it rang. I did not have an IPod or an Xbox or even a VCR. It’s funny that all those things are supposed to make life easier. The truth is, they really do not. They just make life busier.
There was something special about life in suburban America in the 1970’s and 1980’s. To say things were different is an understatement. To say things were better would be, for me, the truth. My parents didn’t rush me to practice or spend every weeknight sitting on the sidelines while I played an organized sport. There was no such thing–at least for girls. (Boys had baseball and football but it was not nearly as intense as it is now) My sports field was our backyard with first, second, third and home plate being whatever we could find that wouldn’t be dangerous. My team was all the neighborhood kids who wanted to play. You didn’t have to be good–you just needed a glove. The street wore the wheels off my roller skates and skateboard. My bike was used every day. It was safe to walk to Mesmer’s Dairy for ice cream or candy…my mom’s biggest fear was us crossing what she considered to be a very busy road–Love Road. In reality, it wasn’t really all that busy compared to today’s traffic.
It is easy to idealize life in memories. Of course my childhood wasn’t perfect. I have written about some of that in the past. I could write volumes more. Still, there was something different about life back then. It was simpler, more laid back, much less stressful. People weren’t in a hurry to go twenty different directions. Neighbors knew each other and weren’t afraid to discipline each other’s kids. A chat over the fence was a common sight. People looked out for each other instead of just for themselves.
It’s amazing where a simple smell can transport someone. Memory Lane doesn’t always hold great memories, but tonight, well, tonight it was an enjoyable trip.