Smells like pre-teen spirit

[Originally ran in the December 2014 issue of The Village.]

The sense of smell provides the quickest conduit to our memory banks. It’s undeniable. More so than touching, seeing, hearing, or tasting, smelling something provides us with our very own mental time machine. Granted, this applies only to certain – and usually special – smells.

I bought a pink rose a few years ago because one sniff of the perfumed bloom flooded me with nostalgia. I couldn’t remember exactly where or when I had smelled that particular rose before, but the unique scent immediately made me feel like a child in the summer in Maine. I had to have it, for not only was it beautiful, but also it would serve as a tantalizing clue to a mystery I may never solve. On the other hand, sniffing a frosted brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tart will not bring me back to childhood, even though they were a dietary staple of the early 1970’s. And perhaps beyond.

So when I caught a whiff of Laurel Pond the other day while hanging up my wife’s shirt to dry, I was curious. For one thing, I hadn’t thought about Laurel Pond in about a year. For another, why was my wife’s damp shirt a trigger? I doubted she had been swimming in Laurel Pond recently, if only because it’s found in my boyhood home of Longmeadow, Mass., a good 170 miles away. Although…it’s a six-hour round trip, and she’s usually at work ten hours a day, so…it is possible.

Though Longmeadow was the quintessential suburban bedroom community, our house on Farmington Avenue was conveniently tucked up against Laurel Park, roughly 35 acres of woods, hills, ponds, and streams, where a boy could catch frogs, fly kites, dabble in arson, play cowboys, and fish. The frog-catching was done at the smaller and less popular of the two ponds, which, acknowledging its status, had allowed the trees and shrubs to grow close to its banks, making itself shaggy and shutting itself off from less hardy adventurers. The fishing was done – or rather, attempted – at Laurel Pond proper, where my dad and I participated in the annual fishing derby a few times.

The clearest memory dusted off by my wife’s odiferous shirt was of an early birthday, when I received a plastic motorboat I had been eyeing greedily in the hardware store window for weeks. It was a white and orange speedboat. Four-seater, with a cabin. Even though it was a chilly April day, I was not to be deterred in bringing it immediately over to Laurel Pond; it needed to be seen in all its glory. No way was I going to waste that thing in the lousy bathtub. Besides, it had an operational propeller.

So I tied a string to the eyehook on the bow, placed a couple batteries in the hull, and marched over to the pond, where a handful of people were strolling about. I can’t remember if my mom or dad or one of my sisters joined me, but I do remember this: I squatted at the water’s edge, clicked the switch, watched the little white propeller spin to life, gingerly set the boat on the calm pond, and proudly watched the inaugural voyage of my motorboat, which completed one lazy half-circle before taking on water, slipping below the surface, inexplicably freeing itself of my painter (which I kept gripped in my hand, a look of disbelief on my face), and settling to its watery grave. One minute, tops. I believe I named it Titanic II. I wonder if it’s still there. I ought to call Robert Ballard.

Intrigued by this flood of memories, I entered Laurel Pond in YouTube, and found a 57-second clip of an amateur panning that section of the park. It’s smaller than I remember. And there it is: the little set of waterfalls that carried Cooley Brook from Laurel Pond to the frog pond and which, at the height of my Tom Sawyer era, I followed one spring day all the way to the Connecticut River. But it was at Laurel Pond where I buried the last of my seven hamsters. I wrapped Sid in foil on January 29, 1978 and sent him over the falls in some sort of container. I was seriously into The Lord of the Rings.

And now we arrive at the point of this column: I really needed to clean our washing machine. I always figured, hey, it’s a washing machine, can’t it wash itself? Come to find, it can, but a human being has to program it. The owner’s manual (10 years old, yet in pristine condition) tells me to do this every few months. Which I will do. Starting now.

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Dana Pearson is a writer living in Kennebunk, Maine.
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