Smells like summer in the back of my car since I have neglected to unload the lake house linens brought home to launder. I’ve left them there because every time I get in my car, the dusty mildew triggers a flood of summer memories that take me way back. And since my new novel includes time travel, any actual experience in the field is a good thing. The first time it happened, I traveled to my 20s, when the smell of lake water represented an idyllic escape from a Dallas desk job, when boat rides became romantic, and the future seemed as mysterious and exciting as dock lights flickering on inky water at night.
Sometimes, driving around with musty linens induces a slight headache, but each mildewy car trip takes me back farther into the summers of my life. I visited my father’s various sailboats and the summers of my teens where everything smelled like a damp life-preserver and I made the exception to hang with parents to cruise the Chesapeake Bay. I revisited a canoe in a Northern Michigan lake where we children had a license to paddle reedy shallows while the adults inhabited a separate plane of existence on the shore.
My summer time travel ultimately lands me in one of those long summer afternoons when the wonder of endless unstructured time, teeters on the brink of death by boredom. That was the hard part. We struggled, but were saved by whoever thought of draping a blanket over a table or a refrigerator box, redirecting our next three days to organizing a tent world and spending a half-night sleeping outside.
Time travel through summers is distracting and causes me to drive beyond my destinations, but what’s a little u-turn compared to the opportunity to commune with the essence of summer? The smell in my car allows total recall of the feeling of liberation, the same now as in childhood: the suspension of ordinary routines, replaced by summer’s New Best Friend: water. Sparkling and splashing in pools, raining on hot concrete, shimmering on lake surfaces, growing mildew in lake house linens.
Must stop. I have to board my time travel machine in order to fetch son from sailing camp.