Monday, September 27, 2010

I remember that.

Last week, when I was working those horrendous hours in an attempt to get this project done, we had a spate of warm, even hot, weather. I had to run to the photo store around 4:30 p.m. When I came out of the office, where I'd been since 8:00, there was a smell that stopped me in my tracks.

I've blogged about smells before; the memory of lilacs outside my bedroom window, for instance. I had not smelled this smell in decades and instantly, I was transported to my grandmother's back yard in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I smelled Penick and Ford.

To someone outside of the immediate Cedar Rapids, Marion, Iowa City, Hiawatha, Robins area, that name probably doesn't ring a bell. To those who lived in this section of Iowa, that name conjures up the smell of sugar and starch cooking at the plant along the banks of the Cedar River between 4th and 16th Avenues, southeast of downtown. When the wind was right, the whole north side of the river had an aroma, sometimes foul, but you could easily identify it as coming from the processing plant. Molasses, corn syrup, corn starch, corn sugar and animal feed was made in Cedar Rapids. Quaker Oats also has a processing plant to the immediate northwest of downtown. That's a completely different smell, trust me on this.

Now why the suburban Chicago air should smell of corn syrup is beyond me. The wind was out of the west but there's nothing remotely near the office which would produce such a smell. I found myself standing next to my car inhaling the air, the smell and longing for a simpler time when I hadn't been yelled at to get an impossible project done in a day.

Later in the week, I had another memory check as I drove to Iowa for a weekend. When I left Wheaton, it was 88 degrees. The wind was out of the south southwest at a brisk 30-35 miles per hour. As I drove through the country side, the smell of the harvest arrived on the wind.

It's hard to describe what that smell is. There is a crispness about it as well as a slightly burnt tinge. The corn and soybeans are ready to be harvested and the smell is almost of burned paper. One could say the heat of these early fall days, when you're reminded that summer is past, roasts the corn and soybeans on the plants. It's a hot smell, but so very, very Iowa.

As I drove west, I ran into a line of rain. I could see it on the horizon, dark clouds with tendrils of rain. I skirted 90% of it but ran into it about 30 minutes from my mother's. Combine the smell of hot soybeans and corn with the earthy smell of an early fall rain which will drop the temperatures about 40 degrees in 2 hours and it's a heady mix. Again, I found myself inhaling deeply and not being able to come up with adequate words to describe what I smelled. I remembered the fall days on the farm as the harvest was coming in.

Of course, everything now is viewed through a prism of nostalgia. Life was just as hard as it is today. We had less creature comforts, but just as much stress, albeit, of a different sort. I remembered sitting on my grandmother's patio on warm summer evenings, watching the fireflies illuminate the back yard. I remembered walking through the freshly harvested corn fields while pulling my red wagon picking up the stray ears and tossing them in the wagon to be fed later to the pigs. Dad paid a penny an ear, which doesn't seem like much, but an hour's work could yield 50 to 75 cents, a goodly amount to an 8 year-old back when candy bars were a nickel.

The smells, as disparate and unifying as they were, reminded me that no matter how stressed I was, standing and smelling brought a peace to my troubled soul.

Beverage: Scottish Blend tea


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