Monday, May 5, 2008

The Best Perfume Ever

A few days ago I went to pick up my kids from their babysitter. It was a little bit after five o'clock, and here in Music City the traffic was just starting to pick up. I yelled at stupid drivers, willing them to be caught by a police officer with a radar gun.

The sun was comfortingly low in the sky. Not high, bringing harsh rays of migraine-inducing light into my car. Not low, reminding me that nighttime, bedtime, and laundry time were right around the corner. No, it was somewhere in the middle. It was indeed comforting, just following me to my destination, warming up my face but giving me some space.

I had some lovely music on, singing rather loudly so as to experience a cathartic purging of work and responsibility before I picked up my funny, sticky, and sometimes naughty children.

I don't often have time by myself in the car. I used to love the car, as it afforded me some time to reflect, practice my Oscar acceptance speech, and sing very very loudly and with great feeling.

Now the car is the early morning commute to work, during which I apply makeup and hand sippy cups of chocolate milk to the kids and keep Sabra from pinching Moira and Moira from stealing Sabra's toys. NOT relaxing, and not enough silence for me to practice my Oscar speech, though I must admit that I never really wanted to be an actress as much as have the attention and pretty dress.

I was recharging in the car on Friday, choosing the music that I wanted to listen to and remembering what life was like pre-children. It was luxurious and soft, like sitting at the beach with a good book. My car was a temporary haven; cluttered though it was it gave me a glimpse of who I am.

I arrived at the home of the couple who had entertained my kids for the day. I parked in their driveway and got out of the car.

In a whirl of unexpected expectancy, I was overwhelmed with strong nostalgia. Middle Tennessee had been flirting with a storm all afternoon, and the air was full of warm rain that had yet to fall. The clouds and sun were creating a idyllic picture of grey and yellow, and the smell....oh, the smell.

I didn't know that Nashville had a smell until I moved away. When I stepped off the plane to return home for visits, I was always struck first by the distinctive bouquet of earth, rain, and honeysuckle. Sometimes it hit me so hard I would tear up, and sometimes I would begin laughing. The perfume of freshly cut grass mixed with the metallic smell of lightning bugs and a bit of grill smoke is unmistakably home in a way that I cannot ever forget. My body responds even before my brain; I feel a tug somewhere behind my ribs and I know without opening my eyes that I am safe.

If I had to squish the memories of growing up in a backyard with dandelion fluff and a broken red plastic swing, the moments of small church picnics with buckets of fried chicken and lighting firecrackers, the years of growing up with the same group of friends...If I had to put all of those feelings and joys and inside jokes into one big memory, it would be summer camp.

If you haven't grown up in a church, you might not understand the whole church camp thing. But every summer my church took the various age groups on a several day, overnight camp. We did all the regular kid stuff, like staying up late and throwing cups of cold water on whoever happened to be in the shower. We sang songs and make crafts and eschewed the horrible camp food. And then, of course, was the first few adventures in 'dating'. I remember being sad that at 3rd grade camp I was the only girl in my cabin who didn't have a boyfriend. One night my friends went down to the graveyard that bordered our campground. They were meeting their 'older' boyfriends (5th grade) there for some late night fun. Which at that age, was....? I'm not sure. But I went along as the lookout.

I don't know if it started then, staring at tombstones in the absolute dead (haha) of night. But somewhere along the way, I have married the ideas of love and summer. Summer is made for being in love, falling in love, wanting to be in love. And love waits until Summertime to show its true feelings. Love must need the warm weather. Yes, 'tis slightly cheesy. But in my world, 'tis true.

After 3rd grade camp, my other ventures in camp life would only affirm those first feelings. I looked on as summer flings started and suddenly stopped at the Snack Shack after the evening service.

Wilted hair, borrowed clothes from a friend, and Airheads bring me only the best memories.

I like to think that my romantic streak developed its pearly veneer from these weeks of parent-free flirtation. I didn't ever really participate, but I did let my imagination run wild. (I would like to thank the Academy and also my boyfriend from church camp...)

These camps rest in the most cherished parts of my past; I look to them with fondness and sometimes even longing. Summertime in Nashville is one of the only things that has remained untouched by scandal or rocked by disappointment. I didn't expect perfection from my leaders or a week without any fights. After all, what good is camp without a good fight?

So I had all of this and more in my mind, my heart, and my nostrils as I stopped for a moment outside my car. Inside my children were waiting for me to pick them up and kiss their fat little cheeks. But for a fleeting second, a breath of a memory really, I was transported. I was 8, 11, 13, 16, and I was so full of hope. Hope for life, for love, for adventure.

I'm not going to do the normal thing and talk about how life hasn't turned out how I expected. This is the truth for all of us. And really, who wants a predictable life? I would have known that Oscar was coming. But did I know that at 26 I would be answering phones with no college degree? Nosiree, that was the proverbial icing on the cake that is my life.

Even though I don't desire to go back in time or change my circumstances to be more glamorous, (because that would be selfish and I am a model of maturity, grace, and devotion) I do love to get a quick peek of myself, trying to look forward at myself.

The moment outside my car, the time alone with the wind and the impending rain and the smell of the most enticing aroma I have ever known, it gave me something I desperately needed.

It gave me a little bit more hope for the future, just as it has always done.

I don't know if I'll fall in love this summer. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. It isn't a necessity, it is just something fun, like getting a really cool prize out of the cereal box as you pour your morning Oatey Bran Flake Crunch. You were already going to eat the cereal, but NOW! Well, you have a cool temporary tattoo that brings you more satisfaction than you would like to admit.

Despite all my nonsensical sentimental ramblings, I didn't stay long in the driveway. I quickly went inside and gathered my kids and took them home for a girl's night. Because love, whatever it is or feels or longs for, should be responsible. Love feeds the kids dinner and holds them when they find old popcorn from under the couch and consume said popcorn and throws up the same on the just mopped floor.

And I do. And I did. And I will.

But you can't fault me for being so very relieved when I felt it again...the smell of summer, the smell of home, the smell of hope.

I needed it. And I always will.

Cue cheesy music, and hand me a hanky.

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