Standing outside the house this morning while waiting for the school bus gave me a few thoughts I wanted to share with you.
First, it is so darn muggy outside. I was strategically standing on the shady side of the driveway, to keep from getting too hot while waiting, just in case the bus got slowed by traffic like yesterday. Within 1-2 minutes of going outside, my forehead felt like a soaked sponge. It wasn’t so much the heat, but the humidity.
Then again, my own body heat might have been raised by the little boy I was holding in my arms. He is more than capable of walking outside on his own, but he was so cuddly this morning with no grrrrumbliness that I thought it was the least I could do for him when he asked me to hold him. While I was holding him to my shoulder in my left arm, there came a moment when we cast a shadow behind us and he got very intrigued with it. I thought two things—First, “That’s so cute,” and started raising my free arm, waving the hand so he would have a more interesting shadow to investigate; Then I thought, “I’m not as good as staying in the shade as I thought I was.”
For the most part, Austin was content to just hang out there, looking back towards the house, and occasionally dropping his head, nestling against my shoulder and neck. Then came that distinctive diesel sound rumbling down the street towards our house. He shifted, swinging his head around to see the school bus coming at us. He got a little excited, but that was no match for the point where we got up to the bus. Then, I put him down and he giddily jumped up to the steps of the bus. He was so happy to go to school, even more so than yesterday.
While Mrs. OGV and I waited there for the aid to get our son secured in his car seat, I noticed the smells and began doing some mental associations that took me back to my teenage years.
The smell of diesel exhaust in the morning seems so different than any other time of the day. Maybe it’s the heat just beginning to come on for the day, maybe it’s the humidity, maybe its how it all blends together, or maybe its all in my mind…it just seems so unique. That smell always makes me think of the summer I worked with my Uncle Hans, helping him out on his delivery route when he worked for the Coca Cola Company. It was only a few days that summer while my father was stationed in Germany, but they were so rich in detail that it marked that thirteenth summer of my life with an imprint I’ll never forget.
Mom or Pop would drop me off at Uncle Hans’ house, then he and I would go to the bottling plant. We’d go to his truck, fire it up, and pull it into the loading area. That was where I would get that first blast of diesel fumes. It would always seem so rich and strong. He was given a manifest, telling him where his route ran and what each client had ordered. Uncle Hans used this manifest as a loading ticket to make sure we had the proper supplies to take care of the customers. He then set about on a forklift and loaded the truck.
While he loaded the truck, I was free to roam through the plant, which was actually a huge warehouse with several trucks pulled in for loading and a small army of forklifts wheeling about with pallets of Coke products to put on the various red and white trucks. The whole atmosphere seemed busy, but at the same time, the cavernous expanse of the building made it seem like the bustling activity was insignificant in the larger scope of things. The neatest part of the plant was the several soft drink fountains that were scattered throughout the building. We could go up to any of them and get as many cups of the drinks as we wanted. Boy! That job was any teenagers dream gig.
When the truck was loaded and my uncle was ready, he would tap twice on the horn. I would then climb up into the truck cab ready to head out. The truck was loaded with cases of the old glass bottles in plastic crates, canisters of soda syrup for fountains, and several stacked cases of canned beverage. As soon as we pulled out of the warehouse and into the sun, he would stop and have me reach in back to get a couple of bottles out to take into the cab. These were for us to drink while we were on the road.
We made our way to a whole list of stops, mostly different grocery stores, some of them chains and others the smaller, mom and pop variety, to a snack stand at a resort area on a local lake. I remember marvelling at my uncle’s ability to put that big truck wherever he needed in order to unload. He could pull in to the tightest spot and leave not even the slightest rub mark behind. Many of the streets in Germany are narrow and work well for the smaller cars most Germans drive. However, when a delivery truck pulls in front of a grocery store to unload, if there is no rear entrance, the driver often has to make his own space. This leads to hurrying to get unloaded so you don’t impede traffic.
To keep our parked truck from being a traffic hazard, we would work quickly at most stops. We’d load up the two-wheel handtrucks and dolly the drinks into the different stores and set them wherever they were to be stored. Looking back, I guess Uncle Hans knew his customers well, because I don’t recall him ever asking anybody where they wanted him to put the sodas. As we made our way through the store aisles, I can also recall the distinct aromas that permeated the air, the smell of fresh baked brotchen and the always-present meat markets.
I also remember that my favorite stop was at the lakeside snack stand. There was this young girl I met there that made me feel tingly inside. I never learned her name and can’t remember what she looked like, but I’ll always remember how she made me feel. I think it was just the eye contact and my own imagination. I remember thinking that she would be impressed by this strapping American boy who could heft the cases of soda like they were made of styrofoam. I hoped she was impressed. I remember how I was so shy when my uncle introduced me to her after we finished unloading the drinks. I said, “Hi,” and shook her hand. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. More than that, I was so bashful that I couldn’t look at her. It was such a deflating moment after I had made this big, romantic story in my imaginative mind while I was unloading her parent’s order for their family business.
Like I said, that summer job didn’t last long. It might have been only two or three days total, (I know the job lasted for at least two days, because we went back to the lake for another delivery and I was disappointed when the daughter wasn’t there on my second visit.) but the memories I have were all stored forever and can be pulled up so easily by something as simple as diesel fumes in the morning.
These are happy memories from my past, deeply engrained because they were so meaningful. I don’t know if my uncle remembers me going in to work with him that summer, but I know it is a time I’ll never forget. These are the kind of memories that I hope Austin gets to experience growing up.
Only time will tell what other thoughts and memories come to mind as the school year progresses. After all, this is only the second day of class.