Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sweet smell of pollution

        I am the Keeper of the Windows at our house.
We only have two window air conditioners, with another parked in a closet that due to procrastination may not see the light of day this summer. We’re in a heat wave here in Massachusetts, with temps and humidity not that different from my childhood summers in Virginia. So the windows go up in the morning, down before noon, air conditioners on until evening, and then if it’s cool enough, I open every aperture I can for the fresh air we prefer. When I go to bed, I close all breachable windows and shut the house doors (we have a history extending back decades of my husband wandering off to bed and leaving the front door not only unlocked, but wide open).

      With another day forecasted to be in the 90s, by 7:00 am today I was traveling from window to window to catch the early morning cool from our woods. I then sat at my computer, which sits between two windows facing the front yard, and watched the squirrels dig tiny squirrel holes in the front yard, the chipmunks scurry on their way to eat another hosta, and the hummingbirds buzz in for another blast of sauce at the feeder.

The soft morning air drifted in to me with a trace of –

Burning paper.

At that moment I was no longer a grandmother in Massachusetts. It was a summer morning in Oklahoma and I was eight years old.

Most summers my family would pack up the 51 Ford and drive from Virginia to Tulsa, where my grandparents lived. And every other summer morning or so my grandfather Woods would be at the brick barbecue in the far corner of the back yard burning trash. ( I never saw the barbecue used for anything else. In fact, that prosperous neighborhood of lawyers and oil men would probably have thought it bizarre to be cooking out of doors.)

So in the early morning quiet, before the advent of air conditioning, I would wake up in the room papered with pink roses and gauzy curtains, and traces of smoke would blend with the coffee and bacon smells rising up the stairs from the kitchen.

I don’t know which of my neighbors today was defying the pollution police, but I’m grateful for that sniff down memory lane.


  1. My father used to sweep fallen leaves to the curb - and set fire to them. I too have wandered down memory lane this morning. Thank you (and your neighbour).

  2. We grew up with a burn barrel in the yard and respect for our neighbor's line of wash.

  3. The smell of ashes takes me back to Texas when I was 5 years old. My mother was outside burning trash, a piece of trash blew under the house, and the house burned down. To this day all these fire pits people are using make me very nervous.

  4. You have a routine for keeping cool. some of this I will have to try. Now a summer road trip in a 51 Ford. what sounds and smells does that bring back?

  5. Summer eh? We have rain bucketing down here and for the first time this year I wore my old suede gloves today. it's officially winter when I have to put gloves on.
    I remember trash backyard burning, we had a big old 44 gallon drum, that got all sorts of stuff tossed into it and when it was almost full, Dad would toss in a lighted match, then stand there with a long iron bar and stir the contents to keep it burning. That became our job once we were big enough.
    I'm a little envious that your summer has cool nights, we mostly swelter day and night, with air conditioners running 24/7

  6. Very Proustian to have a smell carry you back so many years. :)

    My dad used to burn his trash, too. He wouldn't put it out for collection because he was paranoid someone would pick through it and discover...what? His old butter wrappers and bread bags?

  7. We do the same thing with our windows: open all or most of the day until it gets hot, and open to get the lovely cool night air. I loved your trip down Memory Lane. Thank you for sharing it. :-)

  8. we don't burn trash but we do burn tree debris. we're out in the county and there is no heavy trash pick-up. we're under a burn ban now though.


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