Time-Traveling to Grandpa’s Garage

I’ve written before about the effects of scent on memory. As I lay in bed this morning, I was thinking about something that happened yesterday that caused me to time travel briefly. I had to come upstairs to my computer to write about it.

My husband and I recently acquired, third-hand, a 1980s scooter/motorbike/whatever you might call it. We call it Jemima.

(It was Chris’s idea, and I went along with it. We like to bestow upon our vehicles female names that relate to a song, so if you’d like to hear the song that sealed the deal, head on over to this Youtube video.)


The 1981 Honda Express, "Jemima"

The 1981 Honda Express, “Jemima”


Yesterday, it began to rain before Chris and I were done with our outdoor projects, and the tarp that we usually have over our scooter (in lieu of a garage) was in use in another capacity, already wet and spread out on the ground beneath a few sets of window blinds, mid-wash.

Our mutual solution was to bring the scooter inside the front door for the duration of the mild storm. I have a series of doormats there for Chris’s dirty work boots anyway, and the floor is in the state that results from a remodeling project, so having a scooter in the living room was not something to fuss about.

Chris and I sat down on the couch for a rainy Sunday cup of tea, having been interrupted from our tasks, and the smell of the two-stroke engine, with its gas and oil combination, wafted over to us.

I haven’t paid much attention to that smell while outside with the scooter, cleaning it and driving it, having the odor dispersed through the air. Having it inside in the still air had a more powerful effect on me, one that transported me right into my grandfather’s garage.

My dad’s father Leo was the only grandfather I knew, and I only knew him a short time. He slipped away from us slowly from lung cancer, and then we lost him entirely when I was eleven. My memories of him are sadly few.

I knew him as mostly a quiet man, often overshadowed by my grandmother’s stronger personality. He loved his grandchildren, though, and was quick with a silly joke — the kind that made the eyes of the adults roll, but which I still remember fondly, and have tried to pass on to my sister’s own children in his honor.They love it too.


Grandpa at my parents' wedding

Grandpa at my parents’ wedding


Grandpa was a hard worker, and it showed. He seemed tired at times, and could usually be found in his reclining chair with a small dog in his lap.

There were times when I got to occupy that lap, and I would look at his hands and wonder how they got to be that way. Some of his fingernails were so thick they looked like wood, or horn, and I would marvel at that, and at the tanned toughness of his skin.

I now know that his nails had often been injured by hammer strikes and things like that. I know more about my grandpa now than I was able to gather or understand when I was a child.

Back then, time spent with Grandpa meant chocolate donuts, him pretending not to know which holiday it was, and a seemingly endless collection of trophies and awards for his wonderful, special, antique car.

This combination was occasionally punctuated by rare and exciting trips into his garage while he showed something to my dad or my uncle, something he had been working on, or perhaps a tool he went out there to retrieve.

I would scurry out of the house behind them and stand in the doorway of the garage where it was still somewhat light, looking around, not having the slightest idea what they were doing, but wanting to be there with them. Grandpa’s garage had the garage-iest smell of any other I’ve experienced in my life.

He used to restore Volkswagen Beetles as a trade, which interests my husband, who now drives and tinkers with his own.


Chris getting into his '73 Bug for the first time

Chris getting into his ’73 Bug for the first time


It was probably Grandpa’s work on vintage VWs that first began to permeate the space with that old car smell — the oil, gasoline, grease, must, and dust.

Combined with the scents of tools and machines with mysterious uses and purposes, that all added up to a particular essence that I first experienced through him.

Grandpa later transitioned into working on antique cars that he brought to shows. His crowning glory, his prize winner, was a 1919 Chevy Baby Grand.

Sometimes we would get to see him driving it in the Fourth of July parade through town, and sometimes couples would hire him to drive them to and from their wedding ceremony.


this aged photo doesn't do it justice.

this aged photo doesn’t do it justice.


I didn’t get to ride in it often, but I was fascinated by it.

Given that I had little time with him, and I was so young, I don’t have a large pool from which to recollect.

That’s why I was so happy, so purely pleased, to be brought back through time into that dark and manly space, the headquarters of a man who not only knew his way around an engine, but could also make a rough fixer-upper into something gleaming, something beautiful, something worthy of first-place trophies and plaques with his name on them.

I’ll remember not only that engine-scented garage, but also the fact that he used to have a small motorcycle of his own, which, as a young man, he drove around town with my grandmother on the back.


Grandpa and Grandma, young and rebellious

Grandpa and Grandma, young and rebellious


Now that the smell of my scooter has become associated with the man who didn’t get to see me grow up, who, as an adult, I never got to know, I can think of him every time I ride it.

I’m grateful for that.

…Because I am home.

There is quiet thunder rumbling in the distance, but it’s getting closer.

Rain is falling steadily, steadily, coming on stronger, plashing on the pavement and tapping on the roof of my neighbor’s house. I hear it through the gap in my slightly opened kitchen window.

As I’m squeezing out a teabag over my steaming mug, standing at the stove, a breeze comes through the window and drifts upward to my face.

It smells of low tide.

I suddenly find, in that moment when I am reminded that I live near the ocean now, that I don’t mind the humidity so much after all.

All things green and beautiful

I can’t get over how amazing it is to have food growing in our backyard, getting bigger every day, just there for the pickin’.

wee little raised bed o' greens

wee little raised bed o’ greens

Even though I’ve been doing some work weeding and watering, and despite the fact that we paid money for the seeds, it still feels like free groceries. Yesterday I made a salad with our own spinach and lettuce, and some other fixings that we had in the fridge (sugar snap peas, carrots, sesame seeds, Annie’s French dressing, red onion). I took a terrible quality picture of it with my iPad. It was a bit of a mess, but it was tasty.

that's a lot of green and orange.

that’s a lot of green and orange.

I was unaccountably excited about that salad. I haven’t grown actual food by myself before. My mom used to keep a garden when I was a kid, but I definitely did not appreciate how cool it was. I’ve been wanting to grow our own food for a long time now, and even though we had tomatoes two years ago, it was one plant, which didn’t bear much fruit at all, and I don’t even eat raw tomatoes. It was definitely less exciting.

I’m particularly enthusiastic about the chard. It’s one of my favorite greens. I use it basically the same way I do kale, and I like the taste of both pretty equally, but chard is so gorgeous. The word “chard” leaves a little something to be desired, but its colorful stems really ramp up the whole experience for me. I like my food to be beautiful, and there’s not much more beautiful than varicolored produce.

bright lights Swiss chard

bright lights Swiss chard

I kind of knew this was going to be a post about green things, so I took some more green things photos this morning while I was out and about in the yard.

Our neighbor has an immense blackberry bush right up against the fence in her yard, and it sticks plenty of branches through the gaps. It’s forming berries now, and the anticipation is rising.



Chris likes to eat the berries right off the bush, but I like to cook with them and put them in smoothies. Last summer, we had plenty of our-side-of-the-fence berries, enough to freeze for later, and some ended up in individual peach-blackberry cobblers a couple of months ago.

The last plant I took pictures of this morning is another one that’s not quite done, but brimming with potential.

Over the winter, we had a huge snow pile in front of our living room window, from shoveling the driveway and having not much room to put the snow. Since the pile mostly blocked my view of anything else, I figured I might as well have something interesting to look at, so I threw birdseed onto it every few days. Dark-eyed juncos ran rampant over the pile, and we had some squirrel action, as well. Some seeds were missed, clearly, because this spring, some rogue sunflower plants sprang up in front of the house.



That guy is by far the tallest, and it’s driving me a little crazy that it hasn’t bloomed yet. I check every day, and even though there isn’t a blossom there, it still turns its face toward the sun as it makes its way across the sky. In the evening, the plant looks like the exact reverse of the photo. It’s neat to see it do that, and I appreciate its humble origins.

I’ve always considered fall to be my favorite season, but there’s definitely something to be said about all the abundant life that gets in your face during spring and summer. It’s fortunate that I happen to like the color green, because it is everywhere these days. I’m even eating it.


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