Just a sniff for old time’s sake

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 24, 2011

As I rounded the corner, I saw it huffing and puffing up the road, a cloud of misty gray smoke streaming behind it. The sight made me laugh remembering evenings long ago when the sound of its approach brought kids rushing to the sidewalk up and down the street.

Calls rang through the neighborhood as the humming monster came closer and closer.

“I think I see it,” someone yelled from a couple of houses away.

“Here it comes,” shouted another voice.

Excitement hung thick in the air as the first waves of smoke drifted into sight. Then came the smell, it was a blend of oil and some unknown fog-producing chemical. It was the fragrance of summer, the heady aroma of childhood freedom.

As it came into sight, the chase began. Up the block, kids raced to the curb as it passed, stopping at that invisible parent-set boundary, the line where yard crosses into road. Finally, it moved into our territory and my brothers and I ran the length of our front yard, moving as close to the grass/curb/blacktop border as we dared.

Oh how we strained out over that border, longing to launch ourselves into the street to follow the pied piper call of the rumbling smoke-bellowing creation. Alas, we knew too well the consequences of such reckless action. So, we stopped, lingering at the end of the sidewalk as the next bunch of friends down the block took up the chase.

In the last drifting swirl of chemical-drenched fog, we twirled and jumped and laughed until a voice ended the adventure.

“Get out of that smoke this minute,” echoed across yards as parents discovered our game.

“Don’t you know that stuff is poison?” Mother said as she called us to come in. “You’ve got that smell all over you. Get in here and take a bath.”

Bath time — a sure signal of the end of outdoor fun for this day. Oh but we knew that another day was sure to come before summer ended. That fog-pumping, joy-inducing thing would come again and despite the risk of parental chastisement, we would leap at the chance to take up the chase.

Yes, driving through my hometown the other day and seeing what we once called the “mosquito truck” lumbering through a neighborhood leaving its smoke trail, I thought of those golden twilight times of my childhood. Those magic moments spent lost in a cloud of bug-killing ecstasy.

Of course, now that I am older and hopefully wiser, I realize inhaling pesticides is not an ideal activity for children, or adults for that matter. Still, as I passed near that truck I fought the urge to open my window and take a whiff as smoke enveloped my car.

Just one sniff for old time shake, one salute to the glory days of childhood.

But, I drove on with the windows closed because I knew that all things end in their time and you just can’t go back to the innocent evenings inhaling poison as you chase the mosquito truck.