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Christmases Past (or should I say "Passed"?)

Christmas time is as much about smells as experiences: the minty aroma of a just-licked candy cane, boughs of pine wafting their wintery bouquet throughout the house, cinnamon sticks perfuming the pot of warm apple cider that simmers on the stove. No doubt about it, smells can evoke strong memories of Christmases past.

For me, the smells of Christmas past aren’t quite so idealized, however. In fact, there’s one distinctive odor that always harkens me back to Christmases of yore, but this odor is not one you’d like to capture in a bottle for memories’ sake. You see, when I recall the Christmas Days of my youth, burnished foremost into my brain are recollections of being trapped in the back seat of our Custom Cruiser station wagon en route to my grandparents’ house, with a perpetually-flatulent brother poised to strike every 5 minutes for the duration of the 2-hour drive.

I was always stuck next to him in the middle seat—you remember, the one with the hump at your feet, which forced you to keep your knees jammed up against your chin, so that every pothole that the car hit caused cranial injuries. It was one of those older cars, where you had to crank the window down by hand. Being western Pennsylvania, it was bitterly cold most Christmases. Which meant that if said gaseous brother was courteous enough to actually lower the window after stinking up the car, he was also inclined out of spite to keep it down until my tears froze on my face from the lashing Siberian wind.

There was no chance of getting that window back up until dad—busy with the job of chain-smoking Viceroy 100’s up front–pulled out the big guns and threatened my brother with one of those hairbrush spankings we all feared. What with the fraternal rotten egg smell, the enveloping fug of smoky gray haze pouring forth from dad’s cancer sticks, and the painfully depressing sounds of dad’s favorite, the Montavani String Orchestra, butchering Christmas tunes on our tinny-sounding AM-only radio, I was assured that the ghosts of Christmases past were doomed to haunt me well into adulthood.

Year in, year out, Christmas day was the same. First, tear through Santa’s bountiful gifts. Next, dress up in our Sunday best for what felt like an eternity of solemn fidgeting at church. Then pile into the car for our annual Christmas Day dilemma: stay warm, while silently being sickened by the toxic flow of fetid odors emanating from my brother’s seat, or suffer the Dr. Zhivago-like frigid chill of driving across the tundra to Altoona, PA, with all the windows open. Once we got there, it was nothing but fun, but the torture we had to endure to get to our destination was almost more than I could bear. By the time we arrived, our olfactory systems had endured such trauma we could no longer smell the Christmas turkey or even the wafting aroma of my grandmother’s freshly-baked pies.

Years of intensive olfactory therapy have allowed me to laugh at those stinky treks to my grandparents’ house each Christmas. I do feel a little sorry for my brother’s wife and kids, who eventually became the unwitting victims of his gaseous fury.

Imagine my delight when I learned recently that generations of siblings to come will be spared the gruesome car rides of my childhood. You see, last year when my family gathered for Christmas, my oldest brother graced our smelly sibling with the ultimate in personalized gifts, in homage to our years of suffering at his hands (or rather, his volatile bowels). He gave him a pair of boxer shorts equipped with replaceable charcoal filters, to keep those silent but deadly odors from wafting beyond the borders of his drawers. Technology to the rescue! Oh, to have had this back in the good old days. 

Happy Holidays!


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((¸¸. ·´ .. ·Jenny-:¦:-

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Categories: Sleeping with Ward Cleaver



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