I'm fairly confident that every childhood has a smell.
I'm not talking about a smell you remember and have strong emotional ties to, like the combination of Play-Dough and Gram ma's Holiday cookies,but some smell that pops up in your memory from time to time, and whenever you smell it,it's obvious that the smell in question is as big a part of childhood you as the bits of dirt buried in your knee from falling of of some wheeled thing you were going too fabulously, stupidly fast on.
Mine is what I can only describe as a combination of old black licorice melted into cracked pavement, hot bare dirt, rag-weed, and walnut tree sap. Sort of.
I haven't smelled it in years, but when synapses fire off a certain way, or when I'm in a certain mood, I can almost feel that smell.
I think for me, this combination of odors is attached to the bolder,naughtier side of my childhood.
I was a kid who, when mind-numbing hours of school were finished, chores were done, (or I snuck out of my bedroom window during a “wait till your Step dad gets home”session) and I was released briefly to go outside, would take off in the direction for whatever was highest, dirtiest,most likely to collapse with me and whatever unfortunate sibling I dragged with me was in, or most likely to bite Me. I brought home spiders, and lost them in the house,made my mother let me keep a garter snake which I also lost in the house,I got stuck in the tops of trees, and snuck over to the houses of neighbor kids who had things with wheels that went very fast. At the end of the day, I felt I had been successful only when I was as dirty, scratched up, bitten and and, stained as possible. I awarded myself bonus points if I had fallen out of something,eaten something particularly disgusting,or melted my sisters Barbie dolls to a makeshift grill with my brother. That's the part of me that is attached to that smell.
I went on one of my should-be-more-daily-then-they-are runs this morning. Usually, I run the same 3 mile area, making sure I know enough about where I am not to get lost,and certainly NEVER too far from a coffee stand or a place that sells bottled water.
Today was somehow different. I woke up feeling ...naughty. Not in the dick and fart joke kinda way, but in the fall-down-a hill-and-ruin-a-good-shirt kinda way. The kid way.
So, I went a different direction, I changed my play list from the usual combination Tool, Bad Brains and whatever else I usually find good running music, and got sort of lost.
About 2 hours later, heading in the direction of the street I knew my house was kind of sort of close to,I ran across a guardrail around what looked from the street like a pit. Being in the sort of mood I was in, I climbed over said guardrail, and looked down into a sort of dip that looked down onto an industrial area/ Union Pacific train yard.(Portland has the kind of landscape that allows you to look into a dip that looks down on another dip, although I guess I cold have just saved the words, and mentioned I was on, apparently, a very steep hill. But I didn't, did I?) As a wandered down the little man made trails in this little area filled with shortish trees, hot, dry dirt, and the occasional log littered with cigarette butts and a sad-looking used condom, I made my way over to a place where I could look down on the rail-station.
Standing there, by myself, in the dirt, I smelled THAT smell. All around me. For Real. For the first time sense the age of eleven.
As I've gotten older, The little bits of myself that make me tree-brave and spider loving have gotten brittle and fallen off Slowly enough that I never noticed it happening. Somehow the gangling constantly dirty little girl I used to be turned into an adult with a hand-washing OCD, and a phobia of snakes and spiders and a disdain for anything too far from a clean restroom.
In latter childhood and adolescence,a buildup of painful memories and bodily harm made the brave-child bits of me fall away, to be replaced with a tougher, unsettled uncertainty and distrust for whatever I couldn't control or bend to my will. I'm just now finding my way out of a deep pit I fell into between 12 and 20.
Standing there on the edge of a cliff, smelling my childhood, listening to the Talking Heads, I had goosebumps.
I didn't feel like I was 11 again, I felt like I knew all at once what I am, and who I used to be, and how they ran into each other. Instead of looking round to see if I was being watched, with no thought of looking stupid, I though my arms into the air, and just FELT. In the I-just-threw-an-awesome-softball-pitch,look-at-how-high-up-this-tree-i -am kinda way. The kid way.
I got back up the hill a different way then I got down it. I picked the steepest trail, slid a little bit getting up, and came out dirty, happy, and with dog poop on my shoe.
It was The Same As It Ever Was.