Archive for childhood memories

The Morel of the Story

Posted in Food, Glorious Food with tags , , , , , , on May 22, 2012 by davegerry

Morels in May

Tis morel time here in the Eastern forests. In fact, with above normal temperatures across most of Southern Ontario this Spring, the morels are probably done for the season. I was talking about these bits of gastronomic magic at work last week and none of the other co-hosts had ever tasted a morel.

It  is a difficult flavour to describe . The first time I tried it was as a child and my father gave me a big pile of sautéed morels on toast. It was too much, really. It was overwhelming. In fact, I rather enjoyed hunting for morels with my Dad more than actually eating them. For me, the thrill was in the chase, not on the plate.

I became a virtual sleuth of the forest floor. The morels appeared in the woods behind our home for only a brief period (right around the Victoria Day holiday weekend) and you could never count on them being in the same location the following Spring. That made them a bit mysterious to my childhood sensibilities. I thought everything in that forest was tinged with magic…but nothing more so than the morel.

I will always remember the day that, while wandering alone along a path, I hit the morel mother lode. There were so many of the mushrooms amid the ferns and the bloodroot and the trilliums that I couldn’t carry them. There were far too many for my pockets. So I took off my t-shirt, tied the sleeves and the neck hole shut and loaded the improvised bag with morels.

My father could not believe the haul.We dried many of the morels and kept them sealed in mason jars for flavour bursts in the months to come. And we must have had the inevitable pile of them on toast, or in some pasta…or, even better, with a good mess of scrambled eggs. I don’t remember the specifics. But I will never forget the look on my father’s face when I plunked the overloaded t-shirt down on the porch.



Beyond the Blue Horizon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 6, 2012 by davegerry

Winter sunset on Dupont

If you can fall in love with a city in the dead of a Canadian winter this might be the night. The city is Toronto and the evening sky is a peach. It looks like a sailor’s sky..a sky that promises fair wind under glorious sunshine the next morning. What the hell is this sailor’s sky doing here in January?

People are wandering about this evening arm in arm. They’ve got dogs on leashes. They’re pacing themselves with a minimum of jogging gear.

No one is quickening their stride tonight because there is no bite in the air. There’s no urgency on the surface of your skin.  It is the oddest of winters and we will take it.

Confessions here. For most of my life I have imagined that the best summers I enjoyed as a kid somehow still survive skyward beyond a cloud bank. If I were the Rocketeer I could launch myself into that most brilliant blue and find those days playing out in some kind of fracture of time. Makes no sense, but you’d be surprised how often I draw comfort from that little fantasy.

Those would be the summers of endless days at the beach. We were slathered in baby oil and  lay out like strips of bacon. Our parents were always there, stretched out on blankets, smoking and sipping something that wasn’t quite lemonade from the lemonade thermos. When they opened a picnic hamper no one had any issues with a peanut butter sandwich. We all waited an hour after eating to go back into the water lest we be seized by cramps. It was exactly an hour by the sweep second hand on your father’s watch. We used to count it down. It was one of the great parental myths of childhood.

There’d be Motown on the transistor radio booming up from Detroit across the lake. The Mamas and the Papas and the Beach Boys would harmonize in the shimmering heat. The Doors and Jefferson Airplane were there too, hinting at something a little strange..something that might go sideways at any moment. Kennedy was already gone but Manson…well, no one had ever heard of Manson in those days.

In the evening, the sand would feel wonderfully cool on the soles of your feet and you’d bolt down the path to find someone building a bonfire  by the water’s edge And that’s where you’d catch a glimpse of the new girl from a couple of cottages down and your heart would skip a little. That would happen every summer to girls and boys alike.

If you were lucky, you’d all pile into the family station wagon and hit the drive-in movie. Not a seat belt to be seen. Kids were invariably decked out in animal print pj’s in the back. If you were really fortunate there’d be a naughty moment in the movie that your parents didn’t know about and you’d catch a glimpse of something (not much) through the windshield that was clearly intended for adult eyes.I saw the side of one of Angie Dickinson’s breasts once  I got t a little thrill out of that too.

There’d be fireflies and fist-sized croaking toads and June bugs smashing into the screen door like big crunchy kamikazes. The nights were absolutely alive. And so were you.

You understand that I had to write this. I had to write about sunburns and Noxema, burnt marshmallows on a stick,  schools of minnows in the milky warm shallows and  the first fleeting traces of puppy love. I had to write this, decades gone by, on an unseasonably warm January night in the city of Toronto for no other reason than the sky is a peach….and the old times might still live beyond a distant cloud bank.

Step Right Up!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 29, 2010 by davegerry

Burnaby's big ride

I know that this blog frequently reads like the longest trip down memory lane imaginable but I’ve long since forgiven myself for that kind of sentimentality. It’s simply a by-product of an overly reflective nature..and that’s not a bad thing.

Yesterday, though, I literally climbed aboard the nostalgia bandwagon. Rather, I rode my first merry-go-round in more than twenty years. It was the beautifully restored 1912 carousel that now resides indoors at the Burnaby Village Museum and it was a hoot. First of all, I don’t remember carousels moving quite that fast..but this one really zips. Secondly, the CW Parker Carousel is comprised entirely of horses. There’s no chickens on this one. I remember riding a carousel when I was a kid at a lakefront resort and being really disappointed if I had to ride the chicken. You were pretty much willing to kill other kids in the lineup to avoid being the one left with the chicken.

But yesterday I was astride a gorgeously gilded snorting steed. We were shooting a television feature on the attraction so I was going around (and up and down) in my sports jacket and turtleneck. I’m almost positive I was the only rider in a sport jacket and undoubtedly looked like a real goof but , nevertheless, I was unable to wipe the grin from my face.

We interviewed a couple of the people who helped save this treasure from the scrap heap and some of the school kids who were there for a field trip. You don’t find a lot of glum people hanging around a carousel. I’m sure some of the kids (the ones entering their too-cool-for-school phase) might have found it a little pedestrian. There’s a stage that children reach when any amusement park ride that doesn’t promise a fair measure of regurgitation is really a bit passe.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=carnival+ride&iid=7303968″ src=”b/b/0/2/Clarke_County_Virginia_dffe.jpg?adImageId=13032724&imageId=7303968″ width=”234″ height=”157″ /]  I remember those fateful years when the weight of parental responsibility forced me to accompany my two sons on an endless series of rides with names like The Vomitron. You get the same centrifugal force that NASA uses to train’s just dressed up with flashing lights, pounding music and a carny operator who always looks a bit like Bowzer from Sha Na Na.

The carousel is not like that. The carousel is a civilized whirl.

Your first time in the saddle

So you start on one (your Mom always stood next to you to hold you on the horse) and if you live long enough it might be the last carnival ride you’d still be willing to try. The carousel operators tell me that attraction is a very popular date venue. Really? It’s more reasonable than a movie and won’t make you quite as nauseous as 3-D. There are also a lot of people who want to have their wedding pictures taken on the merry-go-round. Do you think the bride and groom can possibly know that they’ve climbed aboard the best metaphor around?

The First Cut is the Sweetest

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on February 22, 2010 by davegerry

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I heard my first spring lawnmower yesterday. I know it’s not yet spring but that didn’t stop one of my neighbours…the guy with the best looking lawn…from firing it up and, thus, officially launching the 2010 grass cutting season. There are few sounds that seem to soothe my soul like the sound of a distant lawnmower on a fine day. It’s right up there on the satisfaction scale with the mournful wail of a train whistle when you’re drowsily snug as a bug in bed. I love the lawnmower sound even though I know it means I will very soon have to follow suit. There’s a domino effect to living in a cul-de-sac. You don’t want to be the last one to get the Christmas lights down…and you don’t want to be sitting around with shaggy turf.

The lawnmower sound is forever embedded in some cathartic corner of my brain. I am a hard-wired baby boomer antennae…a child of the post war suburban bulge. There are three distinct sounds that can instantly transport me back to those carefree Howdy Doody days of yore. The first is the school bell. We have an elementary school within earshot of our home. Every time I hear the buzzer I feel the slightest distant angst about being late for class. My wife tells me that she still has anxiety-filled dreams about cramming for university exams. My anticipation goes back a little further.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”false” link=”term=ice+cream+van&iid=5318948″ src=”e/a/5/2/Ice_Cream_Van_49a4.jpg?adImageId=10618525&imageId=5318948″ width=”234″ height=”185″ /]The second sound that triggers a reaction is any jingle played by the ice cream van. The kids in my neighbourhood used to call the guy who drove it the Yummy Man. And we would scream his name. IT’S THE YUMMY MAN…THE YUMMY MAN!!!  There was always an Olympian-styled dash to the street once the jingle reached your ears. Hot summer days and Creamsicles by the curb…oh God, how I wish life could ever be that singularly satisfying again!

And the third sound is the aforementioned lawnmower. The whir of the mower accompanied by that saturated scent of freshly sliced grass just drifting on the breeze….all of it still makes me want to kick off my shoes, lie on my back and stare into the big blue spaces between the clouds where the best days of spring still live.

Just Like The Ones I Used To Know

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 13, 2009 by davegerry

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I have a confession to make. I’m a sucker for the movie White Christmas. I watched a broadcast of it the other night and then realized that I already owned the movie on dvd. I can watch White Christmas any day of the year..though I wouldn’t.

What is it about that movie that gets to me? My broadcast buddy Simi Sara, I know, feels the same way about It’s A Wonderful Life. Some of you are addicted to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The sound of jazz legend Vince Guaraldi’s piano in  A Charlie Brown Christmas brings an instant lump to my throat. It’s all relative and it’s all very personal.

There are absolutely predictable, unavoidable choke points for me in White Christmas. When the soldiers sing for the General, ‘We’ll Follow the Old Man‘, I lose it. When Danny Kaye sweeps up Vera Ellen for The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing I get a stupid grin on my face.  When the General gets his disappointing letter from the army indicating he’s too old for command, it’s emotional for me. Certainly the ending…when they throw open the barn doors to reveal a suddenly snowy New England countryside, brings on the tears.

I’ve considered this a long time. I don’t think it’s the characters (universally admirable), the storyline (universally hokey), or even the music (universally universal). What triggers my emotions in a movie like White Christmas is the gilded memory of a sweeter time.

They were filming White Christmas the year I was born…1953. I have impossibly romanticized the early Christmases of my life. My mother died when I was fifteen and from that moment on everything changed. The years before her death have taken on a rosy, legendary glow. Life was not perfect but it sure seemed that way, at least to my, then, childish, naive sensibilities . The family was intact. I was shielded from sorrow. The world was right.

That’s what pushes my buttons about a movie like White Christmas. It’s a fond, almost painful reminder of a time none of us truly ever get back, a time that existed merely in a youthful mind’s eye.

My own children have had years like this. They’ve enjoyed the bedrock Christmases upon which many others will be built. When they lose enough, they’ll feel it too.

Making Scents of Time

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 19, 2009 by davegerry

Stop and smell the roses

I think of all the senses the power of smell may be the most evocative. There are some smells that have the power to transport me, almost as if in a time machine, to a certain place at a certain time in my life.

We all have this trigger mechanism and much of it has to do with food. But I’m not referring to food.  I’m talking about very distinctive odours that suddenly come at you from out of left field and leave you awash in a remarkable moment of nostalgia.

Why, for example, is the smell of gasoline so attractive? It’s clearly a health hazard as evidenced by all the warning labels all over the service station pump. But there is something about the slight scent of gasoline that many people find particularly appealing.

I’m going to theorize that the smell of gasoline is pushing a deeply embedded childhood button that, perhaps, takes you back to the family garage when Dad was out there working on the car. Maybe it places you at the cabin or summer camp when someone was fueling up an old outboard motor.

Is grandpa in there?

Is grandpa in there?

I remember being in a used book store with one of my young sons. It had that funky, dusty trace of old books. At one point my son looked at me and said, ‘Dad, this place smells like Grandpa‘. And it did. My father had a house full of old books. That scent is the imprint left on his grandson. It was not a conscious device for remembrance. It was something that just took root.

There are three distinct smell triggers for me. When I am mowing the back lawn and brush up against a big cedar the odour released by the tree instantly places me by the shore of Lake Huron where my family once rented a cottage.  There were long cedar hedges near this cottage that were trimmed almost daily and the warm summer breeze was redolent with the scent of cedar. If I get a whiff of this, though it’s been more than 40 years, I’m right back at the lake.

The second signature smell, and this is going to sound a little strange, is the earthy, humid odour that comes from the top of an aquarium. I have kept tropical fish since I was eight years old. I still keep a few in a big tank. If I open that tank, lean in and take a deep sniff…I swear to God, I’m eight years old again.

Chanel No. 5. There are hundreds, if not thousand, of perfumes in the world but none of them gets to me like Chanel No.5. Simply put, this ever-popular scent reminds me of my mother. When I was a kid it seemed like every woman was wearing Chanel No.5.  The popularity of the fragrance (produced since 1921) skyrocketed after it was introduced to North America in the 1950’s. My mom died when I was fifteen. It is the overriding tragedy in my life. If you put Chanel No. 5  in a room,  my eyes will fill with tears. The memory still lingers in the air.