The First Place I Lived: Sensory Impressions as Memory
I cannot remember if most of these experiences were truly real. I know that car was because I was around seven years old when my mother finally learned to drive. She had a series of cars that came from my grandfather's Ford dealership. Later she got her own, but my grandpa drove cars from his garage my entire life; they too smelled of cigarette smoke and old oil. My grandfather smelled this way too as he dropped by after a long day at work where he scheduled repair jobs. He could diagnose most car problems with ease, but he came over to ignore work and drink pot after pot of strong, black coffee.
The trailer where my parents lived remains hazier than my larger-than-life grandfather or my mother's early cars. I might remember it, stories my parents told me, or pictures that my mom still has in cellophaned picture albums. Some day I hope to look and see if my memories are correct. I highly doubt it, but I know there must be some truth to these remembrances. I asked my parents at one point, and they said I was right about the carpet.
But memories about youth are a funny thing, and they often seem more real than what happened just last week. Colors and smell blend into a bouillabaisse of memory that pops up at the oddest moments. A stray smell or flash of color leads to a memory of an old relative, a friend, or your worst childhood enemy. The scent of apple pie or hot chocolate reminds me of time at the hunting shack in early fall, watching my grandfather and uncle play cards.
That trailer looms large in my memory despite the fact that I was there for such a short time. It feels more important to my spectral past than a week worth of Sundays watching football or sitting in class discussing novels and writing. Sometimes it is more real to me than the time I spent writing my dissertation or the promise of seeing one of my favorite bands. It was a place where I spent time, a place I cannot really remember except for a desire to know my past. A place that haunts me and delights me as I try to picture it in my mind all these years later.