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Archive for August, 2012

Back to School

It was appropriate that last Wednesday morning it  was cool.  After all, when you think of going back to school don’t you imagine it as being a clear. crisp, fall day?  I know there are year round schools now, and that many school districts, like ours, start well before fall, but I still think of starting school in the “fall”.  Although it was the middle of August, last Wednesday was the first day of school here.  It was the first day of Junior year for my youngest son.  How different it was from his very first day of school ever!  Then, I walked him in, got him settled in his classroom, reassured him that I would be there after school, and left with my heart in throat that my little boy was getting so big.  Wednesday, he could barely wait to jump out of the car as I pulled up to the curb.  Long legs were reaching out for pavement before I ever got the car fully stopped.  Instead of the kiss good-bye that I got on the first day of kindergarten (and for many years after that), I heard “See ya”  as the door slammed.  And my heart was again in my throat that my little boy was getting so big.

I’m at that point where I have to decide which things are “last times” and which things are “first times”.  It’s like the age-old question of “is the glass half full or half empty?”  Is he almost done with high school, or is he almost ready for college?  Is his first real girlfriend a step toward manhood, or the end of his being my boy?  Will getting his driver’s license be the beginning of his independence or the end of my being able to control where he goes?

The beginning of each school year is nostalgic and forward thinking at the same time.  We look back on what has gone before, of the changes that have happened each year and we look forward to the changes that will come.  It is a joy to watch our children becoming more mature, to see the new skills that they learn, to listen as their minds develop and their thoughts get more defined. To see them developing into the adults that they soon will be is exciting and interesting.  And oh, so heart wrenching at the same time.  Each step they take leads them away from you and towards independence.  As I watch him wave hello to a favorite teacher, and hear him calling out to a friend, a smile on his face and a spring in his step, I remind myself of the goal that I had as a new mother.  I wanted my sons to grow up as kind, caring men who make good decisions.  I believe I succeeded with my oldest, and I’m well on my way with this one, but for a little while at least, I still have a job to do.

And so as I drove away from the school last Wednesday morning, with these thoughts rolling around in my head, I reminded myself that the glass is not half full, but almost full.   I’ll enjoy the ride that Junior year will be and wait for more “first times”.

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We all know that certain smells and fragrances can affect us. They can put us in a good mood, or turn our stomachs.  The putrid smell of a rotting fish on the shoreline can wrinkle your nose and turn your stomach.    The fragrance of the wildflowers that line the drive into the cabin after a rainstorm, light, clean and fresh can lift your spirits.  I was reminded recently of how smells are also tied to our memories.  Just the hint of something familiar can take us back to another time, another place.  I have a handkerchief that belonged to my grandmother that still carries the faint aroma of her custom blended perfume.  When I take the little box out of my dresser drawer and open it, the scent takes me back to sitting with her on the 3 seasons porch, watching her “show” as she did her nails.  The smell of cedar mixed with pine can put me back on a mountain in Colorado, hiking with a friend under a clear fall sky.  Johnson’s baby shampoo will remind me of my boys, not tall and grown, but babies. How they felt snuggled in my arms, warm and drowsy, fresh from their baths. A couple of weeks ago I was doing some historical research.  There is a small museum up north that I thought might have some information that I needed.  They didn’t, but what they did have was a log bunk house used by the lumberjacks in the logging camps that covered Northern Wisconsin in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  I walked in and was immediately hit with the smell, followed by a flood of memories.

Log cabins, old log cabins, have a distinctive aroma. They smell of wood and pitch, of old smoke and years of dust.  To me, it is a heart warming, pleasant smell that fills me with happiness.  It brings back summers of the 1960’s, when my family owned a cabin called Ogasogg.  On a small private lake, the cabin was built by a famous artist from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.  Along with the main cabin, it had several smaller structures, all made of hand crafted log.  There was the guest cabin, the hunter’s cabin, the studio, and even an outhouse that wasn’t really an outhouse, but a true bathroom.  They were all made of logs cut down on the property.  These weren’t the light-colored, fresh looking logs that are so popular today.  These were dark brown and closely fitted.  The cabin could look dark and scary if you got there late, hulking against the glitter of the lake under a night sky.  Inside, with a light lit, it would feel protective against the night, with all the creatures that scurried around through the forest.  Summers there were always summers of women and children.  Dad worked hard, and summers were the busiest time.  Concrete had to be poured, all work gotten in before winter snows made it impossible.  So he got to spend very little time there.  He would get us settled at the beginning of the summer, Mom, my 2 brothers, my sister and myself, along with a teenage babysitter or two, usually a couple of extra kids, an aunt and some cousins, and there we would stay until he came back to get us at the end of summer.  He would usually come up for a weekend or two in between.  In memory, these summers were magic.  Swimming and fishing, adventures in the woods.  Being left on Potato Chip Island by my teenage uncle and his friend.  Sleeping in the double bunk beds, boys in the top, girls in the bottom, covering our heads so that the errant bat couldn’t get us.  Going into town for a night at the drive in movie and a trip to the fudge shop.  Dinner at the restored lumberjack camp, where you could get fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and the best dinner rolls ever.  The bunk house that was at the museum was the same bunk house that had been at the restored lumberjack camp.  It had the same logging tools displayed, the same carved long canoe.  And the same smell.  The memories were so strong standing there, that I had an overwhelming desire to revisit the old cabin.  I had not been there for many, many years.  Would it be the same, too? I did go back, but that’s a story for another time.  I will say though, that it stilled smelled of wood and smoke, of pitch and old dust, and a hint, just a hint, of suntan lotion, and OFF, and pleasantly dirty children.

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