The other day I was walking through our university’s library when suddenly the smell of those books induced memories of being a boy and going to our small town’s library. Once a week or so, I would wander down to the basement of the library where the children’s books rested and waited for the next set of small hands to hold them. There in that little room, I discovered the Hardy Boys mysteries. Frank and Joe Hardy were quite the detectives for such a young age. Every chapter ended with a cliffhanger paragraph that made me want to continue reading the next chapter. It was good fiction for a young boy written by a fictional author too, Franklin W. Dixon.
Another smell that I loved, and this is going to be really weird for ya, is the smell of new leather shoes when you first open up the shoe box. I think I should use the term olfactory memory to give my weirdness some type of respectable scientific foundation. The smell of new shoes ignites the memory of those special Saturday mornings when my dad would take me to the shoe store to buy a new pair of tennis shoes. In those days, the shoe store clerk was held in high esteem being experts in the medical science of the perfect fit for a growing child’s foot. We didn’t think of them being as important as doctors, but they ran a close second to dentists. The goal was to buy the largest pair of shoes possible so that the child would not grow out of them before they wore them out AND not constantly tripping and falling down due to being 3 sizes too big. An occasional trip was socially acceptable though. “Oh, he’s just clumsy due to his growth spurt.” It was not due to the fact that the shoes would be a perfect fit in 24 months. In fact, the one consistent question that every parent asked before purchasing the shoes, “Do they have plenty of room to grow in?”
My first tennis shoes were always either Red Ball Jets or PF Flyers. Red Ball Jets had a spiffy red ball on the heal of the shoes. This was obviously way before people gave a hoot about graphic designs, branding, and logos. (Think Nike.) PF Flyers used a beaver to sell their shoes. I was convinced deep within my heart that I could “run faster and jump higher” whenever I put those shoes on, just as the tv commercials promised me.
My dad would ask me to demonstrate those new athletic abilities inside the shoe store. He was amusing himself at my expense, but I believed it to be a real scientific experiment needed to validate the potential shoe purchase. I always gave it my best, sometimes even jumping over the slanted, green stool the esteemed shoe clerk would sit upon.
With four children, we couldn’t afford Converse shoes until I entered 6th grade. When that day came, Oh My Goodness, what a day it was. I got my first real pair of Levi’s, complemented with a new pack of white tee shirts, and a brand new pair of black and white, high top Converse tennis shoes. I have never since put on a more important pair of shoes in my life. I made them last for an entire year, only to finally stop wearing them when the hole in the toe of the right shoe also started wearing out my socks. I still love those shoes.
Other olfactory memories? – Grandma’s homemade bread just coming out of the oven, a summer rain on the dusty farm road with the tall dried grass on the edges of the road producing a sweet smell, blackberry picking on a warm summer morning, and Sloppy Joe Wednesdays in the school cafeteria. (For readers outside of the United States, this is what a Sloppy Joe looks like.)
They weren’t very good for you, but sure tasted better than Monday’s fish sticks!
It was olfactory memories that led me to think about writing a song about an old man and his cardigan sweater. As I wrote the words, I kept thinking of a Soundcloud buddy, Chuck Aaron, who has a natural style that encompasses all of his music. He is a great musician with a relaxed vocal style. I asked Chuck if he might write the music and perform the song which ended up being titled, “This Old Cardigan Sweater.” Chuck just got it completed. I got tears in my eyes as I listened to him perform the song. I was so happy, I would even say, joyful, that this collaboration had turned out so well. The song produced a “good smell” that brought back so many great memories of the important old men in my life. Yes, this memory smells really good. Thank you Chuck.
Check it out – This Old Cardigan Sweater