The first of May. Spring is in the air and I have noticed two things that take me back to my early years. The sensory memories, I find, are the strongest. Well, technically speaking, I guess that they are all sensory memories. What I am specifically referring to are those of sound and smell. This past weekend I caught the scent of charcoal and pine smoke in the air. One of my neighbors had a backyard fire going, presumably to barbecue, and it smelled like they used pine cones or needles to help start the charcoal along. The aroma gave me a sense of comfort and emotional warmth. It is a familiar smell that I associate with good times, happy times. As I walked a little farther the scent faded as did the emotion.


This last Monday evening we popped in to listen to the Townhouse Ramblers at Mark Reed’s Townhouse on Georgia. You may remember a few pieces that I have written about the Townhouse. All the same. The gin is strong, the ice is cold and the company invigorating . . . even at volume. So, in for a G & T, park myself at a stool and perk myself up for the Erin and Don show. Erin and Don never disappoint. Before, ‘Building a Band’ as Don calls it, he and Erin warm up with a few of their favorites to which they invite everyone to sing along. It was during a round of “Everything is going to be alright’ that it hit me. My memories, of smoke and song, were of camping.


(If you are a GOT fan you may have noticed all of the book title elements I have mentioned. Is this by chance? I will leave that for you to decide.)


My earliest recollection of camping was at Lake Almanor with my family. I was . . . young. I had not yet learned how to swim and was not allowed to go out on the boat with my siblings when they went water skiing. I was able to splash about at the beach and still enjoy that to this day. Thought I still have not fully reconciled the undertow at the ocean versus the stillness at the lake. (On some things I maybe be slow.)


Camping was still a thing, back in the 60’s. A holdover from the pioneer, Boy/Girl Scout days of the 50’s but with faster boats and skis named Maharaja. My mother, and her mother too, were big in the Girl Scout program and had the camping thing wired. My father, being organized and handy, had all of the tents, camping and cooking gear one might need. A favorite piece of mine is a large steel plate, with reinforced edges to keep it from warping over the fire and a triangular notch in one corner so that it could be lifted off of the flames with the claw of a hammer. Clever man my old man. On this large steel plate my father would fry bacon, flip eggs and cook flap jacks. All at the same time. Seeing this for the first time may have been the very moment I decided to pursue a career in the food industry.


In the evenings, after dining on burgers, hotdogs and freshly caught trout, we would all clean up, do the dishes, and wash our faces in preparation for bedtime. Once all the chores were completed it was time for Song, Fire and Smores. The Smores immediately captured my attention. “What level of goodness have the gods brought me today?” I am sure I asked myself. Toasting marshmallows over and open fire is problematic at best but as an impatient child, one not fully understanding the laws of thermodynamics, holding the mallow at just the right elevation is more torture than joy. It turns out that while a perfectly toasted and soft marshmallow, in the Smore, enhances the overall quality of the dessert, that I actually prefer a burnt mallow with a cold center. To this day I still cannot sit quietly with my marshmallow stick in hand. So I burn it and get on with eating the chocolate.


After Smores, my mother would pull out her Girl Scout songbook and we would have an old fashioned sing along. Being back in the 60’s I might have still been new fashioned, I do not know. Anyways, here is where I learned of few of the seminal songs that would carry me through my life. 100 bottles of beer on the wall, Long Tall Texan and the inimitable John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt. In my life I have only ever gotten as far as 75 bottles of beer, found myself always laughing at the ‘Uh-huh” line in Texan, and am still enraptured with JJJHS. “Whenever I go out, the people always shout JOHN JACOB JINGLE HEIMER SCHMIDT.”


Good times, to be sure.


Spring is here, winter is over, and I have relived a few treasured memories this week. I think I will call April a good month. Time for a little May-O!


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Until next time,


Eat Well and Smile Often

Tommy Judt


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