What’s that Smell??

I got up this morning, a little bit later than I should have. I came down, poured a coffee and threw some frozen waffles into the toaster. I got a couple things ready in the living room where I’ve been setting up shop lately, logged into my computer, started my necessary programs, and I heard my waffles pop up.

I took a sip of my coffee and headed out to the kitchen. As I rounded the doorway I was punched in the face by a memory associated with the smell of toaster waffles. They say smell is the sense most powerfully associated with memory, and it’s moments like this that prove it.

I’d mentioned before that I was never a great student, and that was never more apparent than shortly after the 6th grade. I’d done some hard-core slacking off that year, and got a failing grade for the fourth quarter of Science. I passed the other quarters, but only barely, so I didn’t know whether or not I’d passed for the year. I took it in stride; calm, cool, and collective, as was my way.

Several days later, we got a letter in the mail that my disappointed and mildly angry mother read to me. It wasn’t required, but strong recommended that I go to summer school, as I had passed science by the skin of my teeth with a D- average. Further, was the fact that going to summer school had a price associated with it, and I knew my folks didn’t exactly have cash laying around. Phew! I thought. Summer school would have interfered with our trips to the MDC pool in Brighton that we frequented every day of every summer for the last few years.

I sat at the table, feeling like I was invincible, having dodged the summer school bullet. I was eating my waffles, feeling very pleased with myself and probably acting the part. I was feeling great, right up until I said something, or did something that pissed off my already angry mother. I can honestly tell you, I don’t remember what it was that I did, but I knew I’d stepped in it as soon as it happened… In a tone that tied my stomach in a knot, a tone that I couldn’t begin to describe, she said “…oh yeah?”

She got on the phone and called my father at work. I listened, hoping that he’d tell her to forget it, that we didn’t have the money for it. “I think that’s a good idea,” I heard him say over the phone. Crushed, I started to cry as I tried to eat my now-cold waffles. I tried to ride out the storm, thinking it was a scare tactic. I moved a waffle bit around in the syrup, and squished some butter between the tines of my fork, in an effort to distract myself until it blew over.

Alas, it did not.

I went to summer school a couple days later. I went again for failing science the summer between 7th and 8th grade, and again for failing English (of all things) before entering high school. I don’t remember anything about the events leading up to the second two bouts with summer school, except that there had been no two ways about those two times. I didn’t pass at all, I was going to go to summer school, or stay back a grade. Perhaps having gone through the first round thickened the skin enough that by then it was no big deal.

You might think that reliving that memory this morning, as I walked into the kitchen would be an unpleasant one, but sending me to summer school was the right decision. Were I the parent in that particular instance, I’d have done the same thing without a moment’s hesitation.

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7 thoughts on “What’s that Smell??

  1. This is a very good post Mr. Conlon.It truly resonates with my and my 13-yr-old SLACKER son.He had to take math last summer. Thank goodness we didn’t have to pay for it.While he failed it all through the 7th grade, he ACED it in summer school. I guess he wasn’t as worried about being cool. I’m not sure WHAT he’ll be taking this summer, but after this last report card…I have a very strong feeling he will be taking SOMETHING.And…you give me hope! My slacker son might turn into a responsible young man such as yourself!Right now? The vision isn’t so clear!Thanks!

  2. Well thanks! Here’s the thing(s) about summer school… 1) It’s your last chance. Fail this, not only have you lost out on a summer of doing WHATEVER you want, but you’re going to stay back a grade, and be made fun of. 2) It’s just one class. You get one homework assignment per night, instead of the typical 5 classes+. It’s very easy.

  3. I have a little throw-away phrase I use often because it is true: god gave me the smallest adult nose in the world, but it works better than anyone else’s. I can get just the suggestion of a whiff of something and it transports me away to a whole story like you presented here.

  4. I don’t know if I could have your attitude concerning it. I dodged being kept back in the 7th grade by dint of the fact that I had been going to Boston Latin (from the area, you know it’s considered the best, or one of them) and I would either repeat seventh grade there or be promoted to eighth if I transferred out to my local school.My Mom was for keeping me back. My Dad lobbied for me to be promoted. Thank God for My Dad. If I had been kept back, I don’t think I would have finished high school at all. I would have slacked, ended up like all of the other guys who went to Latin from my neighborhood – dropouts, every one, by age 16 – and… well, your attitude is probably better overall, but it would have crushed me.So, anyway, if summer school had been an option, I’m not sure what would have happened in future, but I know I would have hated the experience then and probably would have written a blog about it by now without half of your magnanimity 🙂

  5. I had to do summer school the summer of my junior year in high school for failing Algebra II. But it was the BEST summer, ever… coz I met and acquired the cutest, hottest girlfriend I had ever known up to that time. Both of her parents worked (as did mine), she had a pool, we lived in El-Eh, and EVERY afternoon that summer was MAGIC. Just use your imagination…And I passed summer school, in addition to getting an education of the finest kind. 😉

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