Monday, July 18, 2011

The Scent of a Memory

I could smell the cable car before I even saw it. What does a cable car smell like, you might ask? Something like a forest fire, but not quite. The famous San Francisco cable cars use pine tar on their cables for lubrication, and when the grip is holding the cable, it melts and then vaporizes. Also, the brake shoes used on the cars are made of Douglas Fir, and have to be changed every few days. The brakes are literally smoking as they stop the cars on those amazing steep hills of The City By the Bay. The smell is unmistakeable. For several years of my young life, I lived in the Bay Area, and this unique aroma was obviously burned into my brain at an early age.

My teenage son looked at me quizzically when I said "I can smell a cable car", and then we heard the characteristic "ding ding" and the car rounded the corner. He was enjoying the newness of the city, but I was reveling in the familiarity of the sights and sounds. We didn't do too much touristy stuff while we were there (although the mandatory stop at Ghiradelli square wasn't missed). He wasn't interested in crowding onto the tourist-clogged cable cars, so we walked all over the place. From Fisherman's wharf to the Cable Car Museum, down through Chinatown, and then the following day through The Presidio and Golden Gate Park, with a long stop at the Legion of Honor (a wonderful art museum that's home to over 40 Rodin bronzes, a good selection of paintings, and ever-changing traveling exhibits).

I think a lot of tourists somehow pass over this museum since it was fairly empty, despite currently hosting The Lod Mosaic, an amazing 50 x 27 foot Roman mosaic from around 300 A.D.  Mackenzie is a big Roman history buff, so this was an exciting thing for him to see. Lucky for me, he likes art museums and suggested we visit the Legion for the Roman mosaic and their traveling exhibit on Dutch and Flemish painters.

Every year, he and I get a little mom-son trip together when my daughter Asa stays at my mom's house for a week of acting with the Missoula Children's Theatre. This year, she ended up as the lead role of Mary in their production of The Secret Garden, which she was, of course, terribly excited about. So we dropped her off with a big fat script to memorize, and a week of excitement with grandma (they got to see The Young Dubliners in concert, for one thing). In years past, we've gone camping but this year he wanted to do something different so it was off to California's central hub on a road trip. I guess I figure if a mom and her teenager can hang out together for a week long roadtrip, then we must be doing something right. Truth be told, he's an easy traveling companion and a fun guy to hang out with. Yep, I'm a lucky mom.

My Smell-O-Vision tour of my childhood followed me back to my hometown of Jacksonville, Oregon, where a nighttime thunderstorm and downpour scented the entire countryside. I took a trail run through the oaky hills near town and was overwhelmed by the heady scents revealed by the rainy evening. Unfortunately, there's one weed that grows there that smells something like funky teenage boy feet (not that I'd have much experience with THAT smell, ha ha). But except in those areas, the air was thick with the smells of oaks and lichens, wild honeysuckle and rabbitbrush. Every moment on the trail took me back to my childhood spent wandering through these hills on Pooh-like adventures with friends.

Then our weekend was capped off by watching Asa in the Secret Garden performance. They did a great job (not that I'm biased or anything), and the role of Mary was pretty well suited to her dramatic personality. Being on stage for her is like being in a lake for me. It's where she lives and breathes and shines, so I love to watch her and just soak it all in.

After all of that, it's good to be home again, although the rain seems to have followed me here. Maybe that's a good thing since I really should be spending the day cleaning and unpacking, something I'd find harder to do if the weather was better. I'm left with the memories of another great trip and of amazement at the people my kids are becoming.

It was hard to say goodbye to the Golden Gate. Driving across it and looking back always seems kind of bittersweet to me since I love San Francisco so much. But in reality, I'm a country mouse, not a city mouse, and it's nice to be away from the traffic and the hustle and bustle of the big city life. It's good to be home.


Laurel said...

beautiful blog entry in both photos and sentiments!

Marv said...

I agree with Laurel. "Beautiful"
The rhythm of it seems peaceful, like the sound of water running over the rocks in a brook.