Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Breeze

I recently read a blog post about scent and memory. When I think about these two things my brain seems to have a favorite connection.

We were campers when it came to summer vacation. I'm told I was taken camping as an infant, sleeping in a sleeping bag my grandmother made for me out of a baby blanket. I can still remember all the steps involved in establishing our home away from home; find the site, back the camper in, unhitch, level it, unlatch the four corners, crank up the center, pull out the beds, and snap the canvas top all the way around. (We had a fancier camper that didn't require snapping, later, but the old camper with the snaps and the bug-eye brake lights is the one that is affixed in my mind.) Once our campsite was established and we'd scoped out its relation to the bathrooms, it was time to walk the loop and check out the campground; to peek at motorcycles in shy admiration, to strain to hear guitars (before I could play one myself),to feel pity for the people in giant RV's,their TVs visible through the screen doors (because they weren't REALLY camping), to look for distinct landmarks that would make nighttime navigation to our site easier. Once my compass was set at two sites past the red water pump near the people with the plastic tiki lights on their canopy, I'd return to ours and sit listening to the ring of stakes being pounded in the ground echoing off the canopy of trees, or to the fascinating rill of languages other than my own.

Camping was great for a lot of reasons. I got to spend a week with my Dad. I can still see him showing me how to light a gas lantern, how carefully he tied the mantles and added pressure to the tank. I can smell its ignition and hear it quietly seething while we dealt Uno cards or listened to stories. (A note to veteran dads: war stories make even the woods of West Virginia scary. Choose carefully.) We always did a lot of learning and exploring. Museums, caverns, historical sites, if it was there, we'd see it. And even in my kid brain I was fascinated by the idea that a campground was a community, a temporary and ever changing one, a place to live for a few days that would never ever be exactly the same again. (The sort of musing that no doubt kept my nose in a book and sharpened my vocabulary but made me hopeless at projectile sports.)

What brings all of this to me in vivid detail? A bar of Dial soap. I can open the package and I am eight years old, crunching down a gravel road, staring at my feet in green flip flops in the halo of light created by a silver flashlight with a red shade. I am retreating from the cinderblock shower building where we scrubbed off the day's dirt and bug repellent, ready to tuck in to my bed and listen to the snap of campfire wood and the murmur of conversation. Long before adult struggles and champion-level anxiety interfered with sleep, before "What if" became a weapon instead of a toy. At 41, I want that clean and simple peace back. Maybe the answer lies in that fascination with ever-changing community, the shifting and temporary sand of where we are, and who we are. We aren't working toward a permanence, a secure place where absolutely everything is exactly how we'd like it. Every permutation, every step along the loop has its own beauty. We can't always be two sites past the red water pump. But what we can do is hang our tiki lights, light a welcoming fire, and play a little music.


20 comments:

meleah rebeccah said...

Awwww. What a great post. I love how the scent of Dial Soap brought back all those wonderful memories of camping with your father.

Shieldmaiden96 said...

Yes, if my hide hadn't turned into some kind of ridiculous super-sensitive itch factory, I'd go buy some. Unfortunately Dial is but a memory for She Who Makes Her Own Laundry Detergent.

Kristen said...

Love this trip down your memory lane, and especially love that song. And the scent of dial makes me think of my grandparents bathroom (they're both gone now), since that's all they ever bought. FYI, you're not the only one that makes your own laundry detergent. Yay for the joys of Fels Naptha, borax and washing soda! :)

Shieldmaiden96 said...

In my Grandparent's bathroom it was always Safeguard in the shower, Yardley English Lavender on the sink.

Have you ever swapped the Fels Naptha for castile soap, Dr. Bronner's, or anything else? You can, you know. I've used Tom's of Maine unscented, Dr Bronner's Liquid soap (a whole 9 oz bottle), Dr Bronner's baby soap and Bergamot essential oil, and this latest batch was made with a bar of local goat milk soap in lemon eucalyptus. Kirk's Coco Castile would also work.

Dad said...

It does my heart good to know that the time we spent together camping was as much a joy for you as for me. I also remember well the scents and sounds of those times. Removed from the stress and commotion of the daily world, my senses were heightened. The smell of pine trees, honeysukle, burning wood, breakfast over a camp stove, the fresh scent after a rain. The sounds of birds in the trees, a light breeze blowing, the crackling of a fire, the quiet chatter and laughter of nearby campers, and the music of the cacada's. It seems campers were a more civilized breed. Welcoming, friendly, smiling. A distant cry from the everyday world where we pass each other without recognition of comment. Thanks for the trip back in time. Those certainly were the "Happy Days". Keep on writing, you have a gift in sharing. Luv Dad

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

You have such a beautiful way with words....and it is all so true. If only I can keep remembering those last few lines....

Lin said...

Oh, man. You had me with ya on Camping Memory Lane!

We had an old pop up that we had to pull the beds out and snap all that canvas to the sides. And I have many fond memories of spending weeks in that thing each summer--as it was cheaper to go camping by the beach than it was to stay home and run the air conditioner.

We still tent camp when we get a chance--or get a spot, now that the RV crowd has domination over campgrounds. Heck, you have to make reservations now to go camping--gone are the days of just showing up with your tent. :( To think people drive a bus to the woods to turn on the air conditioning and televisions. Sad.

What's the deal with Dial soap?? We used that too!!!

Thanks for the sweet memories, pally. Good times. Sigh.

Carol Craley said...

Ah yes, that camper in the woods. I can literally picture your little piggies in those green flip flops heading up the path like a woman on a mission! I never liked the scent of safeguard. I always associate the Old English Lavender with Mom-Mom.

Shieldmaiden96 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KarenD said...

Great post! My Mr. & I once did a tent camping trip out of the back of our old Mustang--Michigan to Seattle and back. Good times. :)

Shieldmaiden96 said...

Dad: I still love it. My only concession is an air mattress since we only have a tent. Sleeping on the ground just isn't as fun as it used to be. :)

Lisa: It takes practice. I wasnt so good at it 10 years ago either. But it gets better.

Lin: Seems like around here the state parks are the best places for tent camping. Still lots of nice places in this county! I did notice when I visited friends at a campground a few weeks ago that there were a lot of RVs.
Funny, Dial I associate with camping, and also Tang. We only had Tang when we camped.

Aunt Carol: In a fit of nostalgia I got some of that green English Lavender soap to use. And found out its kinda harsh! Which I guess is why it was on the sink and not in the shower.

Karen, that sounds like a lot of fun! We have a station wagon now that we could just about sleep in.

christiellanning said...

Pine trees and ivory soap remind me of the camping trips we took when I was a kid. When I think of camping, I can smell that weird tent smell, which I find kind of nice, even if it's not a 'nice' smell.

Tricia said...

My camping memories all have to do with those RV folks you pitied. :-) they were my grandparents and now my parents. An d we have a TV in our camper too. Don't leave home without it. LOL

Shieldmaiden96 said...

Christie: To this day I love the smell of hot canvas, or hot nylon/whatever tents are made of now.

Tricia: Of course now I understand about needing/wanting more amenities while camping, but when I was a kid I just had it in my head that the people with RVs were getting cheated out of some essential experience.

Margaret (Nanny Goats) said...

oh, smell and memory....yeah. I'm a pretty inexperienced camper. Such a city girl. I've camped. I've even roughed it in the woods. But not a lot.

And now, at my age and my back, I can't really just crash on the ground in a sleeping bag any more. {SIGH!}

I like your line about "what if" being a weapon instead of a toy.

:)

Pearl said...

Oh, how sweet that story was -- and how thoughtful. I like your style.

Pearl

Lisa said...

This is beautiful writing. I regret that I never learned to appreciate camping, but I have fond memories of that one week a year we had our dad to ourselves, no work, no volunteer firefighting, no interfamily squabbling to distract him. Just us and wherever we were for that week.

Junk Drawer Kathy said...

Kim -- I know I'm real late to the party here. I'm with Lisa. Your way with words is wonderful. (And I liked reading your Dad's response, too. Y'all have the gift if putting the reader right there with you.) I'm sitting out on my patio listening to the cicadas screaming. It's hot and I love how they get louder as the temps rise. It ain't camp here, but your trip down memory lane put me as close to it as I'll ever get and that's pretty damn close.

Marie said...

That's a beautiful post- and a very Proustian moment you had with that soap! Lovely :-)

MikeWJ@toomanymornings.com said...

After reading this evocative post, I'm guessing you're still horrible at projectile sports. Me, too. And I'm glad for it.