Not My Imagination

I am constantly amazed at how our minds work, particularly regarding memory triggers. “Little Drummer Boy” is played at Christmas, and I am in my junior high chorus with my first set of braces on my teeth. My emotions and mouth are reeling from both anger and pain because I was promised I would not get those braces until after the holidays. (Incidentally, Grandma despises that song!)

The sweet aroma of freshly-baked bread transports me back to my childhood home in Boonton, when Grandma used to make hamburger rolls. Yes, it is true, your grandmother—who also worked outside of the home—baked rolls for our weekly meal of hamburgers. Although she cheated heavily in baking those rolls because she used pre-made frozen dough, those rolls still had that made-from-scratch taste.

On my recent trip to New Jersey, I decided to drive by a few of my former homes, which always blasts me back to the past. The house on White Oak Lane had lost that beautiful pink dogwood tree that Dad so loved, and the basketball hoop which we all enjoyed had been replaced by a new portable one.

My eyes were drawn to a particular tree at the curb—the one on our property which our neighbor, the admiral, had carefully lined with stones. Remember how I encouraged you to disassemble his rock garden and create your own because I was so annoyed at the admiral’s unneighborly behavior to all of us? The stones are still there, but rearranged by the new inhabitants of our former home.

The pen holding the farm animals at the cider mill is now overgrown with weeds, and more businesses and McMansions have sprung up around town. I felt sad seeing that the site is now so neglected.

The deck that Dad and a few family helpers had so lovingly built on the back of Grandma and Grandpa’s house is now gone. From my vantage point on the street, it appears that it is being replaced by a patio. Oh well, it will require less maintenance I guess.

My final stop was to the homestead where I lived for the first six months of my life. The house was one of only three homes located on a tiny street where the railroad track ran just feet from the front stoop. It was so close to the tracks that Grandma often said that when the train blew its whistle, they would raise their feet and laugh, pretending to allow for the train to pass by them.

Upon returning to the main road, I was suddenly zapped by a vivid flash of memory, which was of Grandpa and me filling up jugs of water from a spring located on the side of the road. Did this really happen, or was this just a figment of my imagination? I turned to a local Facebook group and posed a question about the alleged spring.

I am happy to report that my memory is working quite well. My query set off a string of replies from locals who recall accompanying their parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents to fill up empty milk jugs from what one person referred to as “liquid gold.” Sadly, a combination of safety concerns because of the number of cars that stopped to bring home the gold and the eventual contamination of the water shut this site down sometime around 1969.

All good things must come to an end.

Photos courtesty of Michael DeLuca- Boonton

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Getting Smarter

There were two jobs I aspired to when I was a kid: teacher and a spy. My friend, Karen, lived in a house which had the perfect set-up in her basement for playing school. There were two separate rooms which we used as our individual classrooms. I remember that the walls were covered with some type of plaster-like material, which we used as our chalkboards. Karen was Lorraine, but I cannot recall my teacher name.

So I would go to her house, and we would spend hours in our classrooms teaching our invisible classes. At the time it seemed so normal, but thinking back on our playdates now, I laugh as I realize how isolated we were to each other when we played school. But we had fun and didn’t think it was unusual. When you consider that kids get together today and play on their respective smart devices, it is really not that strange.

Now to my dreams of becoming a spy. When I was ten, we watched a show called Get Smart, which revolved around an incompetent, clumsy secret agent named Maxwell Smart (aka agent 86), who worked for the spy agency CONTROL in their battle against the evil forces of KAOS.

In an age long before personal computers, cell phones, smart TVs and watches, Agent 86 was well ahead of his time. He had a shoe phone.

When he and his boss, “The Chief”, need to speak privately, they went into the Cone of Silence. Like Maxwell Smart and The Chief, Dad and I also had our own cone of silence which we employed when we wanted to talk about all of you without being heard. We would go under the covers and conspire against you.

That show was instrumental in my desire to become a spy. I went to the library and got books teaching me how to make invisible ink. I learned how to write secret messages in code. One method was based upon knowing the most frequently used letters in the English language (ETAOINSHRDLU).

When I was in seventh grade, I used to go to a park with some friends (the one where the time capsule is buried) during our lunch break and spy on two of the math teachers who we were convinced were secretly dating. Sadly, we were wrong, which just showed what poor spies we were!

I went to college deciding to become a teacher, but then Grandpa convinced me to switch to math and computer science because of the glut of teachers on the market at the time. Now, as I research our dead ancestors and have discovered that these tools also can help me locate the living, I am pulling out my old spy manual and rethinking about becoming a spy.

Play-Doh and Fireworks and Mimeo Graph Paper

Bryce came over to play today, and he decided it was not a train or a car day. He was interested in Play-Doh. I opened the can and was suddenly whooshed back to my childhood, easily remembering the sweet scent of the squishy dough that was almost good enough to eat. Play-Doh had the same effect today, because that is exactly what Bryce wanted to do with it.

I got to thinking about the other odors of my past. Crayola crayons remind me of kindergarten, when I loved drawing pictures of haunted houses complete with a ghost in each window.

Remember Silly Putty? You could stretch it, bounce it, and transfer comics from the Sunday newspaper with it. It had a distinctive odor which you could smell as you opened the Silly Putty plastic egg.

When I was in school, our teachers made copies using something called a mimeograph machine. They would stand at the front of each row of desks and hand out our freshly-printed tests, and every student would put the paper to their face and inhale the sweet smell of the ink. It is similar to the smell of dry-erase markers.

Brown paper bags from the supermarket, which have been replaced with plastic or cloth bags at most places where I shop, reminds me of September. That is when we (and all of you) would bring home books from school to be covered with these bags. The most skillful book coverer could do it without tape.

Caps. These were playthings meant to go in a cap gun, which came on a roll (red as I remember) like a roll of tape. If you didn’t have a gun, you could unroll it and smash their small little circles with a rock. I recall the popping sound followed by the aroma of smoke.

We had apple trees in our backyard, so a familiar odor signifying the end of summer is that of rotten apples, which Grandpa had to rake and throw away.

We would go to the Firemen’s Fair, where I could smell the disgustingly sweet aroma of cotton candy, which was a treat that I did not have often. On the last night of the fair, we would watch the fireworks. I smell the sulfur-infused smoke and it’s a September night at the field adjacent to my high school. A surge of memories hits me: Pitching nickels, meeting the kids we had not seen since June, sausage and peppers cooking on the grills, the Fifty-Fifty, and the rides—the Ferris wheel, round-up, whip and the scrambler. That ended our summer

Now you are grown up and I am in what Frank Sinatra calls the autumn of my life (maybe August more than September). I have more memories in my rear view mirror than in the road in front of me so I have a lot to say as I walk down memory lane.