BOB LOBLAW PHOTO ILLUSTRATION

Memorable scents I have known

Way, way, back in the ‘50s (that’s the 1950s!), every summer for four years, a rattling old station wagon, loaded up with Dad, Mom and their seven children, traveled back and forth between Michigan and California. An aspiring pastor, Dad studied in Michigan, but returned to his hometown in California to work as an electrician for three summer months each year.

As we travelled, patient Dad sang hymns and fun songs mile after mile after mile; mom sang along, took care of the baby, or silently stared straight ahead. The kids sang, read, competed in travel games, anticipated and enjoyed the Burma Shave jokes along the roadsides. The bloodthirsty boys peered over the edges of hairpin turns and cliffs in the mountains to see if there were any wrecks below, while Mary moaned in fear and Arnie moaned from earache. We savoured the once-a-year pop (soda) from a lonely restaurant at the edge of Death Valley, got sea sick from the rollercoaster curves and sharp little hills in the desert, counted the hundreds of dead jackrabbits which had been run over in the night—and sometimes, just sometimes, became cranky.

Well, at least I did. Perhaps a little too often. I vividly remember the holding-my-breath dread when Dad sharply braked to pull over to the side of the road, got out of the car, opened the side door, stepped onto its little step, reached back and planted one very sharp slap onto my bare eight-year-old thigh. As he resumed driving, I whimpered, watching a red, hand-shaped welt rise on my leg, and tried not to cry. But I broke into sobs when he pulled over again, thinking I had more coming to me. He silently rummaged about in the lunch cooler, pulled out a cool, wet wash cloth, reached into the back, gently laid it onto my burning leg and went back to driving. He was a loving and truly fine father.

After long days of driving and short nights of sleeping in cheap motels (including one which we left rather abruptly, when mother discovered a family of tiny mice living between the sheets on a bed), the end of the trip drew near. Intolerable heat hit us in the San Joaquin Valley in California—wind through the windows scorched; we sat stiffly, trying desperately not to squirm; skin contact was sweat-slimy. Then came the sign, “Manteca.”

Six hands instantly pinched six noses. (The baby would’ve if it could’ve!) Six nasal voices shrieked, “MANSTINKA! MANSTINKA! MANSTINKA!” with exaggerated groans and gags. But the sugar beet factory’s odors—foul, putrid, choking, heavy and pervasive in the thick, hot air—reminded the children that they were only fifteen miles from Ripon, their destination (not Manteca!) Thankfully, Ripon had only the smell of the desert’s dry air and orchards of fruit and almonds.

But…is history repeating itself? Forty years ago my husband and I bought an old house and moved our family into Fenwick, a delightful little country village bang in the middle of the Niagara Peninsula. Orchards and vineyards surrounded us. Clean, cool evening air slipped over us in our beds at night. Fresh country air caressed us as we stepped out onto the porch to breath in the morning and watch the sunrise. Dark night skies held brilliant stars, the Milky Way, and the moon. After our children grew up, we were blessed with grandchildren who climbed out of their cars in the driveway, shrieking, “Grandpa! Grandma!”

But, skip to 2020. We still live in Fenwick, a delightful village. The village has has grown, and now is blessed with a huge marijuana grow-op about two miles away. Cool, skunky, evening air slips over us in our beds at night. Gagging stench greets us as we step out onto the porch to breath the malodorous morning air and to watch the sunrise. Night skies hold a yellow glow, outlining our giant grandfather maple and extinguishing the stars, the Milky Way, and the moon. And…our little grandchildren, climbing out of their cars in our driveway, pinch their tiny noses, and shriek, “FENSTINKA! FENSTINKA! FENSTINKA!”

A rose is a rose is a rose, but…is Fenwick still Fenwick, if it smells like a skunk?