A&L: Memories of Back-to-School Times

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Did you ever notice how our senses can trigger memories?

To name a few: the sound of rain on the roof, the scent of freshly mowed hay, the aroma of nutmeg and cinnamon, and the sound of a John Deere A tractor.

They’re all examples of things heard and smelled that take us back to a time and place.

For me, this back-to-school time of year has several triggers.

For example, there’s the “smell” of rabbit brush and the sounds of crickets that take me back to school’s starting. That’s because I attended a country school where rabbit brush and other vegetation grew up around the schoolhouse and teacher’s house during the summer months. When the community parents gathered to get the buildings ready for start of school, the brush was cut away, and its distinctive odor was given off. And the delightful sounds of the crickets were in the air.

Ah, the memories.

The “smells” of brand new books , crayons and even the fabric of newly-sewn dresses bring back school memories for me, but not all of the memories associated with this time of year have to do with school itself. Others are triggered by the aromas and sounds that come from a kitchen.

All I have to do is get a whiff of bread baking, and it brings back those days after school.

Our mother may have timed it so that the bread was fresh out of the oven when we got home. I’m not sure, but before we opened the door we could smell it. And there they were, all of the loaves turned out on cutting boards, the tops of the loaves brushed with butter.

Mom made several loaves at a time (and sometimes also buns and cinnamon rolls), and it was a good thing because we probably consumed one loaf for an after-school snack.

If you have never enjoyed eating a slice of fresh, warm bread topped with home-churned butter, you’ve missed a treat.

The bread was still so warm that the butter dripped onto our fingers. After we changed out of our school clothes, we helped ourselves to more bread, this time with some apple butter, and ate it on our way to retrieve the milk cow from pasture.

Other afternoons we were greeted by the canning aromas of hot peaches, simmering tomato juice, dill and vinegar, as well as a lot more.

Mom was always in the midst of canning season during this back-to-school time of year, not that she didn’t can during the summer.

Canning then was for garden produce such as green beans, peas and carrots, produce that came on early.

Generally speaking, Moffat County doesn’t have a long enough growing season for some types of fruits and vegetables, especially at our ranch elevation, so they had to be purchased in Grand Junction.

So, each fall someone from the community (sometimes our family) took orders and traveled to Grand Junction to pick up produce.

Our enclosed front porch was lined with bushel baskets full of peaches, apricots, tomatoes, pears, cucumbers and even grapes (that were used in making fruit cocktail). The trick was to do up all of the produce without letting anything spoil. So I can see my mother, as if it were yesterday, sorting through the bushel baskets, looking for the ripest fruit, so it could be done first.

Absolutely nothing went to waste.

And so, after school, we girls could smell the peaches that were being “skinned” and sliced, straight from the blanching pot or the tomato juice that simmered, or perhaps the dill as Mom prepared jars of pickles. And we were treated to a glass of hot tomato juice, a warm peach or whatever else Mom was canning.

There were the canning sounds, too. The pressure cooker canner, full of jars of corn or other vegetables, sizzled and popped away on the stove. Mom was always afraid that the canner would explode, so she warned us to stay away from it, and so I remember it as a rather sinister object.

There was a distinctive “smell” about the hot jars as they were removed from the canner. Then, as the jars, in rows on the kitchen counter, cooled, we waited for the “ping” sounds that would let us know that the jar lids had sealed.

Isn’t it wonderful that our brains have stored away the memories that need only triggers from the senses to be retrieved?

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