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Monica Bielanko
A chronicle since 2005 of my marriage & move to Brooklyn in my twenties; becoming a mother in my thirties; moving to Pennsylvania and learning to amicably coparent after divorce in my forties while living 3 doors down from my ex-husband in a small country town.
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Thursday
Sep122013

Brain Trippin'

More than ten years after I last visited their home before both eventually moved into assisted living centers, I can still hear the sound my grandparents' front door made when it closed. It had a propensity to slam, even when your intention was just to close it. The sound was so specific to that home it was almost a voice; a clearing of a throat, at least.

Strange to remember that particular sound after all this time. I've tried to remember other notable sounds from my life and I often draw a blank. The bell signaling the end of class in high school. The sound of my favorite elementary teacher's voice. But Grandma's front door closing: I can still hear that.

At night lately when I can't sleep I close my eyes and think about different times of my life. Not just think about them, but relive them as they happened. Not noteworthy events, the everyday stuff. The stuff I would never have thought I'd be looking back on so filled with nostalgia I can't breathe. Wait, that's the rhinitis of pregnancy. But still. Lots of nostalgia.

I'll experience pulling up to the house Grandma and Grandpa lived in for fifty years. The house my mom was born and raised in. I walk through the door, hear it slam. I see their "davenport" and the "Fruit Room" where Grandma kept all her canned peaches and jams. I can still smell the fruit room. Musty and tangy; not a bad odor, a scent of food and comfort and love.

My mind blows itself with its ability to recall things like smells. Remembering a smell from my childhood is as close to 'going home' as I'll ever get, considering my childhood home and my grandparents' house are now occupied by strangers making their own smells.

I continue past the davenport into the kitchen where I can still see Grandma stirring a soup of some kind. A soup she will surely force-feed me even if I tell her I'm not hungry. I walk down the hall, past the living room, more museum than room for living, the blue and green shag carpeting squeaking beneath my feet. A telltale squeak that would give me and my brothers away any time we slept over at Grandma's and attempted to sneak out of bed to spy. Spying on two elderly people watching the ten o'clock news is about as exciting as watching paint dry but, at the time, it was a sensational adventure. We learned to time our expeditions with the striking of the grandfather clock, the strikes masking the carpet squeaks. Genius.

Looking back at your childhood is a bewildering thing. Because you experienced all these things as a child you still view them now through child's eyes. But have you ever tried to pluck a memory from the tree of your life, discard the childhood goggles and really examine the thing from your adult perspective? What you discover can be startling: in good ways and bad.

Remembering the way your grandma was, the funny things she said, the expressions: and then you realize that grandma was racist. But she was so nice! She gave you chocolate chip cookies or popcorn balls from her deep freeze every time you came over! Or you remember the neighbor lady who was so cool, always giving candy. Then your adult self remembers her dirty house, stacks and stacks of newspapers, cat crap embedded in the carpet - and you wonder what was really going on there. The cool candy lady was actually the creepy hoarder. My third grade teacher, Mr. Johnson was so nice, he always rubbed me gently on my back when looking over my assignment. Wait. He always rubbed me gently on my back when looking over my assignment.

That kind of thing. That last one didn't happen to me but it happened to someone I know. As an adult they were reflecting on their favorite elementary school teacher and realized he used to rub her backside inappropriately while helping her with assignments.

But I've gone negative and I didn't mean to. Mostly I take positive trips: remembering the kindnesses of people I no longer see, I walk through my childhood home, my elementary school, the homes of friends, drives down old neighborhood I spent so much time playing in. It make me wonder what my kids will remember about our lives now. The porch swing, the playroom with the big couch they use to play a game called "Junkyard." The nooks and crannies of the backyard, piling on the bed and watching a movie.

If you close your eyes to relive a mundane experience of your youth, what's the first thing that comes to mind?

Reader Comments (13)

I do this, the going back in time thing. One of my favorite things to remember is the front door on the cabin (or "lodge" as it was called) where my grandparents used to stay when they came to visit when I was young. The door, hung from huge hand-wrought iron hinges, was made of solid oak and was at least 4" thick. I'd give it a gentle push to close it and it always made a resounding "thud" as it closed that I felt through my whole body. And I remember my grandparents playing cribbage, and huge fires in the kitchen fireplace on cool days. Picking Lily of the Valley, jumping on the trampoline, turning over rocks to catch worms, and swimming in ice-cold Lake Huron run through my thoughts, too...

September 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

I love this post. I can still smell my grandparents' house so clearly too -- it's been about 10 years for me too, since I was last there. Standing in the little back hallway, just before opening the door to step into the kitchen. That is the scent that will stay with me until the day I die, I am certain!

September 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

I did this yesterday by accident. I rented a van from Home Depot, and was nervous because it was the biggest vehicle I have ever drive. EVER. I thought driving my mother's Ford Explorer felt like driving a boat down the street. Well if that was a boat this was a submarine with tons of blind spaces and no telescope. When I opened the door and realized yes I would be the one driving this, and yes welcome to adulthood, I noticed an odd odor. It hit me like a tidal wave of pool water.

The van smelled like the tiny rocks my grandparents had forming the floor around their pool. All shiny and shellacked into place. It was something I haven't smelled in years, but in a heart beat my mind was flooded with images of swimming and summer's spent in Florida. It was just something else that triggered a trip down memory lane in recent days as last month my Grandfather passed away, and began his next journey. Sometimes a trip down memory lane is exactly what you need to remember things that made you happy for whatever reason, and just for a moment, go visiting with people and places that are no longer here. Great Post, thank you!

September 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

I can still hear the way my grandmother breathed. I could never do justice to it by describing it but I can still hear it, and she's been gone since 1998.

Funny that many of these memories where we can still see, hear, or smell things are affiliated with our grandparents.

September 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKat

Man, I love this post. I do it, too. I go back to hide-n-seek at one grandmother's house, and yes, I can remember what her linen closet smelled like, to this day -- and the cookie jar at the other grandmother's house. Picking grapes from her wild vine in the backyard. Summer mornings on the trampoline in our backyard. Meeting up with friends at the donut shop. Sunday dinners at the fancy restaurant. The cool tickling feeling of getting my face painted every year at the town's "Jubilee." This is making me want to write down every single amazing memory, just in case I ever DO forget.

September 13, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterel-e-e

There's something about reliving these mundane yet important experiences that helps me remember who I am. Like, this person was just a total jackass to me but I can still smell my Grandma's Fruit Room and it was one of the safest places in the world and that's just something nobody can touch.

September 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Girl Who...

What comes to mind is my grandmother hanging wet sheets on the clothesline outside and how they smelled like bleach and how I used to like to run into them because they felt so cold and clean hanging up there. She also called her couch a davenport and answered her phone "YELLA?" and called jeans dungarees.

September 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria

Dungarees. Yep. Mine too.

September 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Girl Who...

Love this post. Especially since we just celebrated my grandma's 92nd birthday last night. And as I drove her home we sat in the car and reminisced about her old place and the foods/drinks she made for us. There was a specific tile in the hallway of her her lobby... and 20 years later if I see that pattern it brings me back.
Want to hear a weird one? I went to overnight camp for 10 years, we had a big shower house with about 25 showers in one big room . So when you walked in holding your 'shower bucket' the room was steamy and smelled like shampoo heaven. Imagine if you can 25 different shampoos and their fragrances. To this day, if I smell Finesse, Herbal Essence, Paul Mitchell or some another specific shampoo, it brings me right back to that shower house.

September 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBonnieLee

My grandmother called the couch the "chesterfield." She had a singing yellow canary that she kept in a cage in the kitchen, and on warm days she hung the cage outside to give the bird some fresh air. She never went anywhere without wearing a "good" dress, with earrings on and her hair done, even if it was just to the end of the street. She would put her purchases in a special shopping basket, everyone had them in those days. The one thing she was afraid of was getting cancer. Sadly, that's what she died of, at 68. Her special smell was a lily of the valley-scented cologne.

September 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCathlene

a few weeks ago, my ex husband and I took a walk to 'the park', a secluded and overgrown wooded area which now houses the local first aid. We both grew up in the same neighborhood and share vivid memories of our days spent at this park. One particular memory took place around1970 when I was running from 2 male classmates in the trails. This was a regular occurrence for me as I had been known for my speed when running, a gift which seemed to irk the boys who chased me. On this particular day I was wearing my red white and blue plaid pants stuffed into my blood red shiny crinkle vinyl knee high boots. These were my favorite boots and I loved wearing them to school but evidently lacked the common sense to forego my after school park shenanigans. I figured that if I could run in my yellow smiley face rubber tipped sneaks, I could handle the race in boots...or maybe I never gave them a thought. Anyway, after working up a good sweat, it appeared that I had gotten myself cornered and had no other choice but to implement my emergency get awy plan and run to my piano teacher's shed to hide. Her house bordered 'the park' and a trail led conveniently into her back yard. I heard Mrs. Butler out on the porch sweeping, but since the cards were stacked against me, I decided to risk being seen and I dashed inside. It was pitch black and I heard the boys approaching. Fortunately Mrs. B caught sight of them and chased them out of the yard. In the blackness, I could not summons the courage to step out of the shed, but instead felt it in my best interest to make a break for it. I counted to 5 and then burst out and around it as Mrs. B. screamed "Hey you girly, what are you doing my shed?! GET BACK HERE! I ran all the way home, forgetting my 6 year old sister who was back there playing on the slides. Glancing down at my red boots, all covered in dust, I saw that they had been torn, Destroyed. At that time there was no such thing as vinyl repair kits My mom was upset at my return home without Laura and told me that we were going down to pay Mrs. B a visit. I remember washing my sweaty face and dirt encrusted finger nails and changing my clothes. Mrs. B. NEVER said a word and I decided to keep quiet about being in her shed. That's it. The paths are all over grown now. The playground equipment has been gone for 30 years along with the basket ball courts. My ex lost a friend down there in a minibike accident. The place still reeks of Skunk swamp.

September 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergina

My grandparents have passed and their house is soon to be put on the market. So many decades of family memories, my heart aches every time I think about it. What I would give for another bowl of homemade soup and a smothering hug from my grandmother.

September 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSaffoula

I am so glad I found your blog.
I was starting to think everyone had become boring,but no!

That was classic-spying on the GP's...shit kids do for fun.

September 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

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