Sunday Seven :: sensory experiences that take me back
In her most recent “Five Senses” post, my best pal Cerella spoke about a fragrance product she loves simply because it reminds her of the beloved sister who lives far away. I was so touched by the thought of that, and it reminded me of all those little things that have the same effect and bring snatches of my life roaring back to mind at a moment’s notice. Here are just a few:
ONE. Suave’s now-discontinued Aloe and Water Lily Body Wash, which floods my senses with memories of my days in the wilderness. I was using it before I joined the staff and began living in the middle of Davy Crockett National Forest where daily showers were a privilege to be lost when behaviors took a wrong turn. Not bathing for a few days at a time certainly heightens the senses, and now, whenever I use a soap product that hearkens back to those same fragrance notes, I am immediately transported beneath the canopy of pines once again.
TWO. Aussie Sprunch Spray. This hair product packaged in those recognizable purple bottles first came on the scene in my junior high years, though long before I had learned to embrace my hair’s natural groove. Like most young teens, I used the product like each time would be my last, and its distinctive fruity fragrance constantly trailed behind me. To this day, when I catch a whiff of an Aussie product, I think of drill team and first best friends and Joan Jett on the cafeteria jukebox.
THREE. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”, which I’ve loved my entire life but is now permanently linked to MLB future Hall of Famer Alex Rodriguez. During his short, but memorable, stint with my home team Texas Rangers, I always arrived at the ballpark hours before a game to watch batting practice and get my only close-up shots of A-Rod on the field. I was a fan of his long before he came to Texas, having become enamored with him and his true giftedness during his rookie days in Seattle, but on one particular summer eve in Texas the P.A. system blasted “September” and I saw Alex immediately relax and begin to dance a little in the outfield. It was such a subtle thing — just a little bounce of the shoulders, tap of the feet and twist of the hips — but it enchanted and delighted me. So now, whenever I hear the song, I think of A-Rod groovin’ in the outfield. And no matter what else he does in his crazy life, that’s the enduring image.
FOUR. Lemonade Pie, which I seem to have attached to my grandmother’s sisters and a particular family bonding experience. I’ve run this memory past my mom and she has no recollection of it, but it’s a very strong sense of place and time and taste. Regardless of whether my memory is accurate, I love having this family favorite treat associated with my great-aunts and that side of the family. The pie is delicious and evokes SUMMER in an instant, plus it’s the easiest thing to make, which is why I have remembered it all these years despite my lack of culinary prowess. In my mind I have a vision of several aunts gathered in a tiny kitchen and one of them describing the simplicity of “ice box pie” to me and my sisters and my mom, then getting to taste the treasure, as well. The sweet, tart, cool treat awakened my taste buds in a new way, and the fact that most of the pie is Cool Whip just made it seem like a delicacy to me. I’ve never forgotten that first bite and now it’s a summer staple in my family, always taking me back to a lazy summer afternoon among dear women.
FIVE. Homemade Ice Cream. The taste is so distinctive that everyone who has ever eaten homemade ice cream can immediately recall special moments associated with it, but for me it’s more than just a taste memory. With that taste I can hear the incessant whirring of the motor in the old-style electric churns. I can see the large chunks of rock salt being poured around the basin and hear the crunch as churning begins. I can taste the intensity of vanilla extract in the sweet and slightly lumpy first bites of homemade vanilla. And I can recall the delight of my palate upon first tasting homemade vanilla with chunks of fresh peaches. I’m drawn to extended family reunions so large that an entire floor of an old bank was devoted to our fellowship. Homemade ice cream makes me think of great-aunts and uncles, of second cousins twice removed, and long afternoons trying to figure out how I was related to all of those people.
SIX. The perfect summer meal of chicken fried steak and seasonal vegetables, which I didn’t always enjoy as a child but have come to love more than any other meal I’ve ever had in my life. It reminds me of shopping the Dallas Farmer’s Market with my mom and watching her choose the best produce and haggle a bit with the vendors to get a better price. And then later, watching her in the kitchen as she tried to make the process speedy so as not to heat up the room too much on those blistering Texas days. Most of all, though, I remember the dining area of my childhood home with its full wall of windows (totally unappreciated at the time) and large antique dining table that had been passed down from my paternal grandmother and now resides in my youngest sister’s home. Most of our family moments occurred around that table and in that dining area. But that meal was always the best part of the year.
SEVEN. The old hymn “Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” that was a staple in the church services of my youth. When I hear it now I am transported to my childhood hometown of Cedar Hill and the small church we attended every single week, and I recall the congregation filing out of the pews and stretching around the room while holding the hands and serenading the Lord and each other with an a capella version of the hymn. It happened so often it wasn’t even that special at the time, but in all the churches I’ve been since those days, it’s only happened once or twice more. I often wonder if that little church has retained that tradition or if it’s one of those fondly remembered moments we’ll bring up in our elderly years.