The Familiar

They came in a tube. They were green and smelled like pine trees. The kind of smell that made a person relax and unwind. The kind of smell that made a person forget. The kind of smell that made a person realize life was going to be okay. The stress melted away.

The smell was familiar. As soon as I opened the bottle of “Holiday Peace” essential oil, I felt myself back there. I could see myself back there. Back at the Euclid house. In the bathroom. The water was running in the tub. I put one in the water. One of the oil balls. It was kind of soft and a little squishy. I knew I wasn’t supposed to. They weren’t mine. They smelled so good. Always taking things that weren’t mine.

The heat of the water melted the rubbery sphere and released the oil. The blend of oils was amazing. The scent filled the bathroom with pine and fir and frankincense. I hated baths. I hated taking them. Taking a bath…sounds weird. Anyway, it wasn’t my favorite thing. I preferred showers. I never understood how someone could just sit in the tub forever, but I did it. Those oil-filled bath balls drew me in. I couldn’t help it.

We begged to use them. She always said no. Always. I think they were expensive. Maybe that was why. As I look back now I could see why she was selfish with them. I could see why she hoarded them. I could understand a little bit. I could. 

When I opened the bottle of essential oil, it was as if I could see the memories flooding out of it, like it was a waft of smoke curling up out of the bottle. I could feel the memories as if they were yesterday. The smells, the sounds, the house, the tub, all of it was there. The smell was vintage. The smell was almost a cold smell. It’s hard to explain, but I can smell a chill. It’s strange. It must be the pine smell and cold air smell combined. I love it.

There may have been others scents, but I always remember the green, the pine, the smell, the feeling, the familiar.

A babysitter named Corrine and a Banana Splits lunchbox

It was the Euclid house. It was fall. The mornings were cold. It was a contest. We wanted to see who could make it to the babysitter’s house without wearing a coat. It wouldn’t have been bad, except we rode our bikes, so it always felt like the wind was blowing right in our faces. We rode the whole width of the street. We thought we were cool. Brats riding bikes in the middle of the street. We were every parent’s nightmare. We had to carry our lunchboxes too. We used to have the brown paper bags, but for some reason I begged my mom into getting me a regular lunchbox. Mine was from the TV show The Banana Splits. It was white vinyl. It had a snap fold-over closing. It smelled weird, that strange vinyl smell.  The kind of smell you can’t stand, yet you keep smelling it. 

Every morning we did this. Same time, same place. No coats. Contest. 

I was curious, so I looked up The Banana Splits show. It was around until about 1970. It started in 1968. The puppeteers, Sid and Marty Krofft, made it big after this show ended. Their next cartoon was H.R. Pufnstuff. Remember that one? I also just lost 1 minute and 22 seconds of my life listening to the theme song from The Banana Splits show. It’s called “The Tra La La Song,” and you will never get it out of your head. Seriously. Not even kidding. 

We were going to her house. The babysitter’s house. I always wondered, if we could get ourselves to a babysitter’s house, why did we need a babysitter? Weird. Anyway, it was only about two blocks. I tracked it the other day because I couldn’t remember. We would cut through the alley and out into the street. We rode over to Grand and then two blocks north. Her house was a few houses in from the intersection of Grand and Elizabeth. The house was big. It had a wraparound porch and was painted white. 

She was pretty. She had dark hair and beautiful dark olive skin. She was really tan. Her voice was kind of different. It’s hard to describe. Not high pitched, not deep. Just different. She taught us about life. She taught us about doing our part. She taught us about working. We liked to help her. There was a clothesline in the backyard and a big garden. There were rows and rows of green beans. We picked them for her and ate them the whole time we were picking. We helped with the laundry. We helped with everything. We even helped with cooking and baking.

She let us be kids. She let us play in the dirt. She didn’t get mad if we were dirty or muddy, or if we made a mess. She just let us be. She taught us how to knit and how to put together jigsaw puzzles. The hard ones. The 500 or more pieces ones. I vaguely remember music too. I can’t remember what it was about the music, but something…

She treated us right. She treated us like we were her own. I loved her. 

Thanks Corrine Leidholt. You were a positive influence in my life and I am forever grateful for you.