Saturday, January 08, 2011

Triggered Memories

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years. Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.“ - Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses.

This is a perfect day to write.  Scent triggered memories….I remember when I wrote about that way back when.  The scent of the snow-covered pines in the back brought this to mind as I swept the snow off the path this morning. I remember the same smell of the evergreens and pines from every weekend, every winter holiday when we went up to the country.  Montrealers didn’t call it a cottage, it was a country house or "we were going to the country" but never "to the cottage."  Amazing how language changes from place to place.

We had a great house with red doors on dark stained pine.  The house was built into the side of the mountain down the road from my grandparent’s place that was perched on the top on a cliff overlooking the lake.  My aunt and uncle had a place right across the road and cousins, who bought our guest house, were on other side of us.  It was a magical place.  We’d drive through the red gates and the rest of the world would fade away.  People were always coming and going, family and friends coming for the day or longer.  Unless it was a hot summer day a fire was always going in the huge stone fireplace in the corner, there were books everywhere, needlework in all stages of completion that my mother and I did, a jigsaw puzzle in the works on the dining room table and cards, games, and of course music going all the time.

We’d cook up a storm, lay the tablecloth over the puzzle very carefully so it could be lifted off, puzzle waiting for whoever wanted to find that missing piece.  It had a warmth, a sense of home that was felt the moment anyone walked through the door.  Everything about it said ‘welcome’.  

At the lake there was a boathouse, also with a large red garage door and red trimmed windows.  There was a small apartment on top with a balcony overlooking the water.  I can’t remember anyone ever staying there but it was my favourite place.  A place I could go especially at night, lay on my back on the balcony seemingly overlooking the water and look up at a gazillion stars blinking back and perhaps a stolen kiss in a quiet moment where whispered conversation would fade away.

It was a place where no pressure, chaos, crazy schedules existed….just times by the lake, walks in the woods, picking raspberries, making jam, flying saucers in the snow, the crunch of the cold snow under our boots as we braved the cold.  

It was an amazing place.

New Year’s we’d watch old movies if they were on, Harvey, the six foot three and a half inch rabbit, being one of my favourites.  We’d often go for a sleigh ride under warm blankets to bring the new year in.

We didn't rely on TV, though we had one, an old black and white, and video games and computers weren't around then, thank goodness. We'd be outside most of the day to come in to a roaring fire and hot drink. My treasured pump organ was next to the fire and I'd have fun trying to churn out a song or two.  

Long walks in the woods to the country store for milk to that extra few feet around the bend so we could see if the small waterfall in the creek had frozen over yet...wandering down to the lake to skate when it was cold enough and some of the snow had been cleared. We went flying saucering down the hill outside my aunt and uncle's place and I'd often climb the hill to wake my cousin Mark up to go skiing.  We'd pile our stuff into cars and many of us would drive to the other side of the mountain to tackle the hills of Belle Neige. I thought I knew that place like the back of my hand as we skiied unmarked trails. That's until my cousin Jeffrey, being a gentleman, said "After you!" and I went off a cliff. So much for my skiing days...

We never had trouble sleeping, though my father, a firm believer of fresh air, would open the windows in our bedrooms at night. We slept like logs in the country air, but try getting us out to step onto the cold floor in the morning.

We all screamed at him.

He kept doing it.

Mom would send Dad to Ste. Agathe to the bakery to pick up TWO BREADS.

He got the bread…..sometimes.

Sometimes he forgot because he was so busy buying everything else in the place from mini hors d'oeuvres to cold cuts, coffee cakes and everything else he couldn't pass up because it looked so good, he'd often have to go back for the bread! The owners of the bakery must have made their monthly sales quota each time he walked into their store. And the freezer downstairs kept filling and filling....

Some of the traditions live on even here.  There is often a roaring fire going.  Winter time a jigsaw puzzle is on the dining room table for anyone to try to find that specific piece or the edge right there. There’s still some needlework happening, a quilt close by so I can put in a few stitches here and there and music always going.  

I miss that place.

Just like Lac Paquin, as I learned from my parents, the special people in our lives are always welcome.  If there’s something to serve them they help themselves and if not there’s always a cup of tea or coffee, or a glass of wine and a conversation waiting to happen and the rest unfolds as it should.  

The trees that surround the house remind me of those in the country, once in a while Harvey, the six foot three and a half inch rabbit makes an appearance on TV and yes, music is always going.

It’s what home should be….welcoming and warm, a place that stays in our hearts and minds forever.

Wishing you many wonderful memories in the making for 2011.


Donna Karlin

1 comment:

Rosemarie said...

Loved this! Thank you Donna.