Proust’s Madeleines– Arkansas Version

Have you ever noticed that sometimes the smallest thing can trigger a memory? There are certain smells or sounds that can transport me straight back to my childhood–the smell of mimosa blossoms, for instance. When I was growing up in Little Rock, our beloved family friends Jim and Randy Venable lived across the street from us. Randy was kind of our unofficial godmother, and since she and Jim weren’t able to have children of their own, they doted on the six of us. The mimosa tree was next to their driveway, and I loved the sweet, honeyed fragrance of those strange pink blossoms. When any trace of that heady scent wafts across my path, I can close my eyes and see Randy and Jim’s small, neat house, feel the pea gravel of their driveway under my bare feet, and feel the tickle of the feathery fronds of the mimosa blossom as I hold it up to my nose.

Today I used my mom’s old Wear Ever aluminum juicer to squeeze a lemon. It used to sit in the cupboard in Mom’s kitchen, right next to her slightly dented spaghetti strainer. Sometimes when I was sick, Mom would make me a small glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, which to this day is one of my favorite things in the world. I have her original juicer now, but a few years ago when she was still using it in her own house, I found one just like it on ebay. It pleases me to have hers, and every time I use it I remember all of the times she  juiced lemons for lemon merengue pie– which I’m now totally craving. Thanks, self!

The smell of leather harkens me back to the 6th grade, and my pony Charlie Brown. He was solid black with just one small patch of white on his shoulder. He was also kind of a jerk as far as ponies go– though he wasn’t downright mean, he was certainly mischievous, which translated into him trying to rub me off on every tree on the trail ride, and feigning ignorance when I slapped his leg because he accidently-on-purpose stepped on my foot for the hundredth time when I was putting on his bridle. He would also bend his neck way around and ever so gently grab my butt cheek with his teeth when I curried him, pretending to be surprised when I jumped and then swatted him. “Oh dear,” his little pony expression read, as he batted his long pony eyelashes. “I had no idea that was your butt– my apologies.” I had a small western saddle for Charlie, partly suede and partly smooth leather. I loved it, especially the smell of it. It was heavy for a kid my size to swing up and over Charlie’s back to place it on top of the red padded saddle  blanket. It had a rich brown scent like fall leaves with a bit of a sharp acidic tone, which was probably dried pony sweat, now that I think about it. Eww. Good thing I wasn’t this analytical when I was in the 6th grade. I rarely go to tack and saddle shops these days, though I pass several of them when I drive into Shelbyville to go to Walmart. But every year when Russ and I go to Eureka Springs after Christmas, I make sure to do a leisurely walk through their handmade leather goods shop… and I inhale deeply and happily.

OK, your turn, group participation time! I’d love for you to leave a comment and tell me about a sight, sound, smell, etc. that instantly triggers a memory for you. (And if this is your first time to sign in to leave a comment, please be patient and don’t give up if it’s a little bit of a hassle… We make it an eensy bit complicated to ensure that we don’t get hacked or attract spammers; and so far so good!)

15 Responses

  1. Gramma Jac

    Evidently, I’m not a hacker or a spammer!!!

    My Grandparents raised me on a small WI dairy farm. My Grampa was the sweetest man and has been gone since 1991. I instantly think of him and of happy hours playing in the haymow when I smell newly mown hay!! LOVE IT!

    And of course, the baby memories–love the smell, the sound of the coos and giggles, and the feel of the baby snuggling against me! Grandkids bring that back!!! (BTW, I think I told you all about my former Girl Scout troop–and that I claim all 10 of their BOYS as my Grandsons (3 are my bios). Well my youngest daughter has a baby due in January–and it’s a GIRL!!!!!!! I’ve only bought a “few” things for the baby!)

  2. Gramma Jac

    Sort of put parenthesis inside parenthesis there–didn’t use brackets! Ah well, it’s early and my eyes are still blurry!!! I’m not a hacker or a spammer–just a poor user of punctuation!!

  3. blondie

    Hi Tori!

    Funny you should post this today. This morning I ran across this article on the web and was immediately taken back to the late 60’s early 70’s when I spent many fun-filled hours at Aquarena Springs. Have you ever seen a swimming pig? Well Sister, you haven’t lived until you do. The article is a little on the long side, but such fun!

    As far as smells go, if I ever catch the scent of “White Shoulders,” perfume or powder, I am instantly enveloped in a Gammie hug.

    I love this topic, I could go on forever, but I’ll give someone else a turn. :)

  4. pj

    Hmmm… Think I’ll make some Madeleines this afternoon …

  5. LindaB

    The sweet earthy smell of a spring rain. It takes me back to a little house on Center Road where I grew up. There were five kids in that little house and we were tired of being couped up all winter. Then spring would come and I remember playing in the warm rain on an April day with my sister and brothers. I could see my mother through the window at the stove making dinner. I remember that scene everytime I smell an April shower. Sweet days they were!!!

    Tori, we had neighbors named Venable too! And they were originally from Arkansas. Alvie and Mabel Venable. They became close friends to Mom and Dad. Good people.

  6. auburn60

    I think that smell-memory connection is one of the coolest things God allowed our brains to do.

    Two words: Camay soap. My grandmother used Camay soap and only Camay soap. It had a very strong, perfume smell that was kind of unique. She bought it in all 3 colors-white,pink and blue and had it in every bathroom.You could smell it in the hall before you ever got close to the bathroom. I had forgotten all about Camay soap until one year when we happened to be picking up groceries on a vacation in North Carolina. My husband found me standing in the soap aisle with a bar as far up my nose as I could get it, inhaling deeply. I was immediately transported to the house my grandparents lived in and could hear,actually HEAR the rattle of pans in the kitchen and my cousins slamming the back door as they ran in and out of the house. I ordered some Camay from Vermont Country Store one time, not to use it, but to keep it around to smell it. I also can be transported back to first grade when I smell a combination of chalk,horses and sweet clover, with a few notes of disinfectant and pencil shavings thrown in. My elementary school backed up to a field where horses came to the fence during recess so we could pet their noses. The school also had no AC and the windows were always open during the warmer months and the breeze blew in, blowing papers off our desks. I can still
    feel those hard metal and wood desks. Someone stop me before I start telling you that I walked to school backwards in the snow…

  7. tori

    Gramma Jac: So glad to hear you are definitely not a spammer or hacker, I’ll rest easier tonight. It’s smelling like new-mown hay all over the place around here lately, must be hay harvest time. And congratulations on your upcoming GIRL!

    blondie: LOVED the Aquarena article! And now I’m lonesome for Gammie…

    pj: Oooh, make the lemony ones!

    LindaB: What a lovely memory. Do kids even play in the rain anymore? We sure did!

    auburn60: Ah, Camay. Jergens lotion can do that to me, too. Also Sea Breeze– remember that?

  8. LindaB

    I still use Sea Breeze! You can come smell it whenever you want. :)

  9. delightedabroad

    For me it’s not a smell but a sound that raises memories: duck chatter. That reminds me of summer vacation when I was a kid and we were on a boat for two weeks.

  10. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Sweet memories are so wonderful! When I read your question, Tori, too many came floodng back for me to type in this block. I’m thankful our memories don’t have to fit into a block of any size, but just float around freely and every so often take us back to a person or place that will always make our heart smile.

    It’s funny how I can identify with so many of the memories everyone here has mentioned: Grandma Jack’s feeling that soft silky hair on her cheek while holding a baby; Blonde’s White Shoulders, which I used to call my signature “smell” for so many years; Linda’s playing in the warm rain (do we even have warm rain anymore?); and Tori’s pony. I had a horse growing up and she was my heart for so many years. The stories are unending. For example, did you ever let your pony swell his belly so that the girth was too loose and your saddle went over on his side later on during the ride? And there were those bouquets of lilacs that mother filled our home with when they were in bloom. My grandmother’s lemon butter that tasted like lemon pie filling and her watermellon preserves cooking on the stove.

    Okay, okay, so you ought to know better than to ask an old lady about moments that take her back in time….and not have to read several pages, just for a starter.

  11. blondie

    Ms. Barbara,

    I made my cup of hot tea, and snuggled into my favorite rocker this morning and yours was the first thing I read. Such a sweet way to begin my day. Thank you for taking the time to record a few of your memories. (I would LOVE to read as many pages as you cared to write!) Have a great day!

  12. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Oh, sweet Blonde, by any chance did your grandfather use Old Apice when he shaved?

    Did your dad always make two freezers of homemade ice cream on a Sunday afternoon following church and at the beach? One chocolate and one pineapple (because it was mother’s favorite)?

    Do you remember your first gardenia wrist corsage when you smell gardenias blooming?

    Does it take you all the way back to your highschool gym wen Star Dust comes on the radio?

    You know, sweetheart, we are just gonna have to find a corner somewhere and visit for awhile.

  13. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Oh dear, that was supposed to be Old Spice that my grandfather used. If he could read what I typed right now, he’d be worried about me.

  14. blondie

    Oh my goodness! Just TODAY I saw a re-run of Ask This Old House online and they had a segment on orchids and I was remembering a beautiful, orchid wrist corsage I received one evening in high school before an important banquet.

    I love the ice cream story, what a sweetheart of a dad. (Mine’s a sweetheart, too!)

    Old Spice, I hadn’t thought of that in a very long time. Smells do take you away quickly, don’t they?

    If I ever make it to your neck of the woods, we’ll find that corner!

  15. tori

    You two would LOVE each other!

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