The scent of summer

With my dad at Del Mar racetrack, mid 1980s

This morning I took a long walk around the neighbor with my dogs. I overheard a fellow dog walker across the street ask, “what time’s the party?” and when I rounded the corner, a little girl was twirling around in her front yard with a big bouquet of pink balloons, a shiny pink “5” floating proudly in the middle. Her mother was puttering in the yard as she twirled, and just past her in the driveway was a big inflatable slide, surely huge and and shining with promise to her little birthday girl self.

As I continued past the house, all of a sudden I caught a whiff of kids’ sunscreen, and I was instantly transported. I couldn’t help but grin, a huge ear-to-ear smile that took me totally off-guard. It was one of those olfactory memories that comes out of nowhere and takes your breath away. That smell was pure childhood summer to me — vacations up the CA coast, beach trips and running around the infield at the racetrack. Sunshine and swimming in a lake. Sandwiches, sodas, and giggles. I could practically smell the Italian bread we’d buy on our way to the races, a scent that mingled with sunscreen as my sister and I squirmed away from my mom, much more interested in lunch and the cookies that would follow than whatever hypothetical sunburn might befall us. In my mind’s eye I could see the geese that would honk and hiss at us despite our well-meaning offerings of bread (it was too good for them anyway… oh, that bread!). The grass under our feet as we ran from the far end of the infield to the other, determined to try to get a glimpse of those beautiful horses twice in one race. The feel of a cold can of black cherry Shasta I’d eagerly fish out of the cooler. Or the feel of the warm lake water of Havasu as we splashed outside the houseboat, life vests bright in the sun, and my dad eternally tidying and hanging up soggy towels. The games of Acey Deucey we’d play those evenings, betting with piles of little river stones, our foreheads slightly pink from the day despite repeated applications of sunscreen.

I had a happy childhood. Summers felt like a golden time, and that unexpected waft of sunblock on the breeze this morning made me remember just how beautiful summers can be. This year, as we stretch our wings and rediscover the world outside our front doors, I’d like to try to hold onto that golden, joyful summer spirit. We didn’t care if we were sweaty and tired. It was all about the joy of the moment… and those moments smelled like sunscreen.