A reader’s contribution

Published 6:57 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2017

in the short rows

A loyal reader of this newspaper, Sarah Barlow Wright, wrote this column. Not fully, you understand. I put it together, but she provided most of the reminiscences that it contains.

Sarah read the recent Short Rows about the importance of our sense of smell to our memory. Her perspective as a teacher and school administrator and a county native raised on a farm shades her memories in a delightful way, and I am pleased to share her thoughts.

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First, she recalled the smells of school, and topping the list is the oiled wood floors of the early schools we attended. Who could forget the almost overpowering smell of the oil that kept down dust and served a cleaning agent in those old buildings. (It also served as fuel when one of those buildings experienced a fire.)

Remember the smell of new textbooks? The freshness of “new” glossy paper and the ink that brought them to life? But Sarah also recalls the somewhat less definitive and slightly less pleasant smell of second-hand textbooks. Most of us used some of those as well.

Then, there was the smell of peanut butter and banana sandwiches in a brown paper bag, she recalled. I would add to that the smell of apples that so often accompanied lunches. In fact, I can distinctly recall the smell of a glass-fronted bookcase in Mrs. Evelyn Saunders’ first grade classroom in the old elementary school. It was there that all of us deposited our lunch bags and boxes, and the combined foods odors of the cabinet was distinctive and really very pleasant. It was certainly memorable.

Sarah remembered Mrs. Woolman’s homemade soup from the “lunch room” in the basement. That dates me a bit. The lunch room was in a separate brick building in my time, but the odors, again pleasant, linger.

From school to farm, Sarah’s memory too us back to a time now gone. She recalled how distinctive were the odors of various manures — horse, cow, chicken and hog. Not so pleasant, but in our memory not terribly unpleasant either.

And then — how could I have left this out of earlier columns — she recalled the fresh smell of white sheets on the clothesline. What a truly magnificent smell. It was hard to fold sheets without taking a deep whiff of that clean, outdoor odor. No modern dryer can duplicate it.

And, of course, the smokehouse. The combined smells created by years of smoke and dripping ham and shoulder fat make me hungry just to recall them.

All memories are not confined to history, though. Sarah recalled freshly mown grass, which we can still enjoy, as well as the smell of magnolia and gardenia blossoms. Still with us, and still enjoyable.

Thanks, Sarah. What a pleasant stroll you have offered.