Friday, September 5, 2008

Do you smell that?

The sense of smell is an incredible memory trigger.
Today, driving to work, I was three cars behind a school bus. The car ahead of me, the person was smoking a cigarette.
The smell of burned off diesel and smoke took me back to any given Christmas morning in my child hood.
Early Christmas morning, Mom would bundle us up into warm clothes and we would take the bags we had packed the night before.
We would go down to the Greyhound Bus station and board the big grey behemoth that would take four kids to Seattle for our Christmas break in Seattle with our Father.
The cold morning air, dawn still hiding over a distant horizon, held the warm exhaust and cigarette smoke close to the ground. High rafters with cold sleepy pigeons did not allow the heat to rise so it could get cloying after too long.
We were never allowed to go into the bathrooms alone. No one ever said why, just that we could not go. The cold would make me have to pee and I could not go until I was on a moving bus across the snowy state.
We would arrive in Seattle 5 to 9 hours later and encounter the same cold darkness with smoke and fumes. Punctuation of transit with a week in Dad's house and then the same sentence in west to east instead of east to west. Same closing paragraph of cold dark evening with a long pause until next time next year.
I saw the yellow behemoth turn off into a school and the air cleared of uphill poorly incompletely combusted diesel fumes and the fool in the car ahead threw a still smoldering butt out their window and sped off to the left where I turned right.
Over thirty years later and I am transported back to a place and time because two unique smells went up my nose and tickled my olfactory bulbs. Synapses connected and I remembered the good and bad and agonizing times of my child hood.
It all comes together in the present as I drive to work, a grown man looking back at a scared confused small human bundled up against the bite of more than winter.
It helped shape who I am.


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