The Scent of Summer & Sacred Moments


As I sit out on my patio overlooking the woods, I close my eyes and inhale the fresh air through my nose. Although it’s about 80 degrees and humid, the wind is off the lake. So, while the air that surrounds me is hot, the wind is cool, comforting, and carries with it a gift:  the scent of summer.

I love summer. The way it feels. The way it smells. The memories it stirs. Today, the scent of summer takes be back, as it always does, to another time and place.

I’m an eight-year old boy with my nine-year old brother, Chris. It’s a July afternoon and we’re out on our bikes exploring. Chris has promised me we would ride our bikes to Riverview today, a popular (pre-Disney) amusement park frequently advertised on TV. The problem is, it’s 90 miles away. Nevertheless, I believe him—because I admire him. And at nine, Chris believes he can make good on his promise. So, I follow him as we begin our journey. We ride around the block—ten times in the hot, humid air. As I begin to tire, Chris pulls over under a group of shade trees.

He hesitates, struggling to tell me what he's thinking.

“Jim, I don’t know how to get to Riverview. We’re never gonna get there.”

I wipe sweat from my forehead. “I know.”

“You know? Then why did you follow me?”

“I don’t know. I guess as long as we go together, it doesn’t matter where we go.”

Chris seems relieved that he didn’t disappoint me. “Come on, Jim. Let’s go get a Popsicle.”

We end up in front of Les and Marie Nelson’s grocery store a block from our home—sweaty, thirsty, and hungry.

As we enter this Mom & Pop store, a bell attached to the door frame jingles overhead, alerting Les that a customer has arrived. Les warmly greets us from the back of the store where he’s stocking shelves. The old hardwood floor creaks as he approaches. As he walks, he waddles, like a duck, the result of a hip issue or accident. Not sure which.

Les smiles. “Hey, look at you, Chris and Jimmy. My, you’re getting so big.” It’s a common refrain all adults are programmed to say to every kid each summer after they emerge from a long winter. (I don’t believe him. I don’t feel any bigger than last year, and Chris looks the same size to me.)

Les extends his hand and says, “Put it there.” It’s his custom, and our cue, to shake hands with this sincere, unassuming man. It makes me feel important.

“What can I do for you boys?”

“Just lookin’,” Chris says, always to the point.

“Yeah, just lookin’,” I repeat, trying to sound as cool as Chris.

Les walks behind the penny candy counter anticipating our next move. Chris crosses the room. I follow. On his tippy toes, he leans over the long, open refrigerated section that runs along the wall. He lowers his head into the icy interior and inhales to refresh himself. It’s our precursor to air conditioning.

“Try this, Jim,” he coaxes.

I lean over the railing and copy him. I sniff the cold refrigerated air. I relish the rejuvenating scent of the frosty air. I do it again. As the cold air enters my nostrils, my summer fatigue fades. Chris was right. He’s always right. I feel revived.

“I’m gonna to buy a root beer Popsicle,” he says.

“What else they got?”

“Look for yourself!”

“I can’t decide between a Fudgesicle, ice cream bar, orange Push-Up, or the banana Popsicle.”

Chris looks disgusted. “Hurry it up, before my Popsicle melts.”

“How much money do we have?”

“Check your pockets,” he commands. I empty both my pockets. Together we have 76 cents.

Chris smiles. “Cool. We can each buy at least two things and some penny candy.”

I opt for the banana Popsicle and an orange Push-Up; Chris elects the root beer Popsicle, Drumstick, and some penny candy. We have money left over for another day. Les patiently rings up our order.

“Boys, how are your folks?” Les asks, knowing we are only two of six children.

“Fine,” Chris says, never wasting words and answering for both of us.

“Need a bag, fellas?”

“No thanks,” Chris says and exits the store.

I linger a bit. I like to talk to Les—about nothing. Just talk. Maybe I ask a question, shake his hand “goodbye”—or thank him for being nice to me—after all, he doesn’t have to—I’m just a kid.
“Much of what is sacred is hidden in the ordinary, everyday moments of our lives. To see something of the sacred in those moments takes slowing down so we can live our lives more reflectively.”
             Ken Gire (from The Reflective Life)

Les Nelson didn’t change my life. But he did leave his mark on it—with an easy smile, his trademark handshake, and kind words. Why else would he be remembered over 50 years later by two men who were once young boys with a sum total of 76 cents worth of weekly purchases?

Today, the scent of summer reminded me of a man who routinely showed two boys that every time they entered his store, he believed they had value.

It’s true. “Much of what is sacred is hidden in the ordinary, everyday moments of our lives.”
What memories does the scent of summer trigger for you?

P.S. Chris and I never did make it to Riverview. Ever. But, over the years, we’ve had many adventures together. My admiration for him has only grown. Today, he is the patriarch of our family. And, just this week, after decades, my wife, Karen, surprised me with a pack of banana Popsicles.


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