Childhood home: hello nostalgia.
Nostalgia Triggers: Childhood Memories
Childhood is a fine recipe of smells, hand-me down clothes, and the very first memories born in the house where you grew up. Everyone's nostalgia has a funny schedule and comes for a visit when you least expect it. It may be brought about by a bunch of fresh dill in a grocery store, ABBA's song, or a yarn of a particularly repulsive color. Everyone's triggers are different.
When I wipe the dirt off my hands working in the garden, I get a flashback to my days in Kicivka - a Ukrainian village so small that even the maps chose to ignore it. Since I was four years old, every summer my grandparents welcomed us, the four kids, into their home. That was our summer vacation, year of year. Barefoot and completely drunk with unsupervised freedom, fresh air and sunshine, we helped with an acre of kitchen garden, took the geese to the pond, and helped caring for the goats. Collecting the tiny yellow eggs, then the red larvae, then the grown colorado beetle off the potato plants was no joke, our potato harvest depended on whether or not we stayed vigilant with the pests. Eating apples and peaches straight off the branch and playing hide and seek in the patches of corn and sunflowers was both healthy and rewarding. While drinking cold water, I think of the well on my grandparents' street. A bucket lowered on a chain into the dark abyss represented the plumbing system. The green outhouse built by my grandfather stood proudly in the very back of our yard. How quickly my brain connects the random dots from the present to my past!
To this day, I still don't like wearing gloves when gardening, because I like the feel of soil on my hands. Just like peonies and gooseberries, it forever reminds me of my magical childhood summer days.
We didn't have microwaves or frozen meals, not even a toaster. Home cooked meals supplemented with "open" sandwiches known as "butterbrot", daily soups, including infamous Ukrainian borsch, and hearty breakfast (nothing "cereal" about it) were on our menus. A lot of tea, and substandard coffee, honey on butter-covered rye, and sugar cubes just as is popped into our mouth instead of candy. I don't exactly want to dwell on what exactly went into the cold cuts that covered our sandwiches, but a thin layer of butter with either smoked salami or Holland cheese was a school-lunch staple.
I think of those salami butterbrots whenever I hear a story about a stray, or see a mutt resembling a German Shepherd with Pointer markings.
I must have been in seventh, or eighth grade when I befriended a stray dog. White and red mix of who knows what, with dirty coat and clever eyes, he was the size of a German Shepherd. He was my friend. On my way to school, I would share my salami sandwich with him, and he repayed by following me on my two-mile daily walk to classes. He would gobble up the bread along with the thick crust and the meat, and lick my greasy fingers with gratitude. He was one of many strays in a country with no working system for animal control. A heartbreak.
Whenever we went to stay with our grandparents, we loaded up on graph paper (to play battleship and word games) and books from our extensive home library. Everyone in the family grew up a voracious reader. We had the entire works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, Jack London, most of Dumas. I remember fighting with a goat over the cheap, newspaper smelling pages of The Count of Monte Cristo. When we immigrated to the US, it seemed especially important to bring those books with us. Today, when I thumb through the tome of Ukrainian folk tales, it reminds me of packing our four bags as we were leaving to come to America to build our new lives.
The hat season meant that the weather began to let go of the summer. By late October we wore thick faux-fur coats and generously lined boots. Since there were no school buses and Grandfather Winter did not like to wait, we gave up fashion in the name of staying warm. We put on thick hats, scarfs and mittens, and our skilled mother knit quite a few of those. She chose bright colors that didn't always complement each other, but they sure did make a child feel happy. Being the youngest of four, I had the pleasure of wearing everyone's left-overs, but I didn't mind. I remember waiting to grow up, so that I am tall enough to wear this dress, or that sweater. Seeing knitting needles reminds me of winter and my mother's skill.
My reflections might not seem fascinating or special to you, but I know that everyone has their own set of precious memories. The smells and sounds stored inside of us that have the power to make us pull out a dusty photo album, or a toy we used to play with as a child, just to see it again. Next time when a sound, a color or feel of fabric against your skin elicits an overpowering spell of nostalgia, come here and share what stirs your heart. What a fine collection we could weave together.