I've read many times that the sense of smell is one of the most basic, and that smells can induce powerful memories. I believe it.
This morning I bought a bag of safflower seed for the bird feeder -- I've learned that safflower is one of the few grains squirrels don't like, so they leave the feeder alone -- and I don't have to spend time trying to scare them away or put up some sort of shield.
As I stood in the dim garage, emptying the bag into varmint-proof containers, the smell of the grain dust wafting up in the pale light powerfully brought back the childhood image of being inside the storage shed at my small town's Purina granary, where farmers sold their grains and bought seed for the next year, and where farmers bought feed for cattle and poultry and so on.
My best friend's dad owned the granary, so we spent a lot of time there, climbing on the seed bags, and hanging out in the office, with its posters and other miscellany that was common in the 1950s. I took the smell for granted then, pleasant but hardly in the forefront of my awareness. As I watch the fireplace burn inside my house of today, the pop of burning wood reminds me of the night the old granary went up in flames, how we stood near it and watched the firetrucks try to save it, and the noise and flying sparks when the elevator finally collapsed. And then came the new elevator, all shiny and clean and somehow lacking the character of the one that burned.
That was in the days when it all made sense, our dads did what they did, our moms were home, we spent long summer days walking "downtown", following the train tracks, putting pennies down to get flattened (never remembering to come back the next day). We spent a lot of time near the train depot, too, throwing rocks at the old water tower that, in my early lifetime, had been a vital part of railroad function, when steam ruled the rails.
Somehow those days became the old days. We grew up, parents died or divorced, we all married (or not), the world became more business than simple living. My friend's dad ended up in prison for trying to sell grain he didn't yet have on hand -- and suspicion grew that perhaps the elevator fire was not quite as accidental as it had seemed, but an easy way to get rid of an old facility. But that was all in the future those days when we played on the grain sacks. When life was simply life, new and fascinating and full of promise.
It's all so long gone, and while I miss a lot, I know that if I were to be transported back, none of it would feel right. Because that boy is gone, he became me but I am no more him than an oak tree is an acorn. It's a one-way street, but it's still good to remember.
My God, but I suddenly sound and feel old. How did that happen?
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