A Smell to Remember … What IS that Smell?

Was sitting at the drive-thru at a local restaurant here in Marion, Moondoggies. The place, besides being an eatery, is close to being a museum of 1950s-1960s memorabilia. So, as I was staring at the old Texaco sign on the side of the building, I was also observing the steady stream of traffic going down the 5-lane. Got me reminiscing … once it was just a little road … I so very much miss those simpler times … where a trip to “the country” was just a few minutes away from the Tappan Zee bridge in NYC.
The pond.
Monroe, NY

I miss the old Red Apple Rest and the Motel on the Mountain. Bear Mountain Lodge. Funny thing. My Dad moved to the “quaint little town of Valley Stream” – yes, I received my copy of the newly released “History of Valley Stream” recently – to be in the country. And in fact, though our new “country” house was just one short block from the New York City line, there was, indeed, a farmer’s house right in our backyard. Maybe a half-acre was all he had left.

What happened to the country lanes, the smell of freshly cut clover hay? Where are all the drive-in movie theaters, the mom & pop country restaurants, and those lone motels that didn’t have a Holiday INN sign … just “air-conditioned,” “color TV,” & “pool” signs? “Yeah dad, let’s stop here!” What ever happened to the days when every country shop in the Adirondacks smelled – and looked – just like a Cracker Barrel. Diners. Woolworth’s & the Five and Dime with the wooden floors and unique odor. Soda fountains & candy stores.
Monroe, NY
the pond … another view

Which brings me to Monroe, NY …. I was probably between 4-8 years old when my family used to go there as part of our summer vacation. We would stay at a small, rustic motel on a bluff overlooking the road. A road much like I imagined used to be what the 5-lane in Marion once was. Sitting on that front porch watching the sporadic car go by was just one of life’s many small pleasures. I do have quite a few memories of those days – with my Mom & Dad, baby brother [literally], Aunt Tess & Uncle Joe, and my cousin, Robert [like my big brother] – but being so young they are sort of surreal to me now. Life was so much simpler & quieter back then. I wonder what Monroe is like today? One memory I have is of a rat being in our room and nibbling on my brother’s bottle nipple. I think my Mom felt it run across her shoulder as she slept. Nothing like a rat in your vacation suite. There was a miniature golf course up the road. A blast. That’s where I did most all the golfing I have ever done. Ice cream and golfing … putt-putt … My parents helped me create some great memories. We’d go down to the pond to sail the vessel across the mighty seas – my cousin & I. The vessel was a creaky old row-boat. The difference wasn’t noted in the day.


Some of the memories, though, were created solely in my ever-active mind — like the little “imaginary” glade that belonged to the gnomes. There was a small toad-stool home, moss, magic. It was emerald-green, a tiny, confined little area near the pond, I think it existed – somewhat, a secluded glen – but ever since, I have had a recurring dream about that mythical, secret home of non-existent creatures – ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. To this day. I still get “a thrill up my leg” when I dream of this “place”. Must have discovered something around that pond that triggered this memory … probably a tadpole pool. 🙂
Gnomes' Glade
in my imagination …

But the best … the memory, the one that just sticks with me … is that smell. Not sure what it was … sweet clover? – perhaps. There was a herd of sheep grazing out in a pasture across the road from our rinky-dink motel [few, if any, large chains were around then – it was all Mom & Pop]. Seems I could watch them in their peacefulness forever. And, I did. But it was really all about that smell. It just wafted through the air, across the road, and to my appreciative nostrils. I don’t think I have ever smelled anything better – not that I didn’t eat, at least. And yet, I still don’t know, for sure, what it was. Once in a while, as I am driving, I get a brief, passing whiff of that smell. Instantaneously, I am brought back to Monroe, NY, at that old motel, as safe & secure as a kid could be, smelling that sheep pasture. It is like a magical mist surrounds my brain and gently massages it with soft wisps of fingertips. It is bliss. And then it’s gone.

‘Twas a time when we looked at and absorbed the simple beauty around us … now? 12 inches or so in front of our nose is about as far as we really look. Everything, our whole world, is right there in the damn phone. I have always disliked the telephone. Must of had a sense it would come to this!! “Oh well, another day has begun … ” And they all seem so complicated now, too!
And, that reminds me – as I continue to ramble – I have a distinct memory of waking up on a sunny summer’s morning, hearing the song sparrows outside my open bedroom window, probably 10 years old, and saying out loud to myself, as I wiped the sandman from my eyes, that very thing, “Oh well, another day has begun!” Now, I get to wondering just how many are left. Where does the time go?
Monroe, NY
I don’t know where this is, exactly, might be a country club’s golf course, but it is in Monroe, and it reminds me of the view I had from the motel, where the sheep grazed.


  1. Why mourn for things which are not dead? Why miss the things that havent gone? The world is full of little country roads dotted with green pastures. Quaint family owned general stores still abound. They often feature a small diner, not the faux-retro of moondoggies, but the genuine article. Few cellphones laptops and gadgets are seen at these places. They are often filled mostly with regulars but the occasional passerby is more than welcome. Conversation is readily available. Go and look.
    Putt-putt continues to be quite popular as well. Mostly for the young or the young at heart. Frogs of all colors are as numerous as ever. Open your ears this summer and you will hear them. And where there are frogs there will be tadpoles. Thousands of them. The human child of today still is delighted at the discovery of a nest of gooey frog children in a still pool of water. That will never change.
    Do not be dismayed by the expansion of a road. Its a good thing. It is necessary to facilitate the travel of the people who live work and play in that town. Nostalgia is quite normal but leave life to the living. Perhaps its not the world that has changed. Perhaps its your perspective.


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