I was at Costco the other day, looking at salami and prosciutto when a man walked by wearing Ralph Lauren cologne and I swear my entire morning stopped in its tracks because of the combination of that familiar fragrance combined with rotisserie chickens and whatever warehouse smell bulk grocery stores all have in common.
I stood there, transfixed and temporarily brought back to summers in Roanoke. Of living on Smith Mountain Lake, driving into town with my mom in her black Suburban, of buying what seemed like way too much food and wine and soda but always ended up being just the right amount, because friends were always filtering in and out of our house every day in June and July, and because (most importantly), we really only seem to be friends with people who can eat.
I’ve been missing summer in the south lately--that deep, humid heat that settles into your bones and gives your hair texture you didn’t know it had. The way that long after the sun goes down and the fireflies come out it’s still 85 degrees and sticky. Summer in the south is big and magical for more than just the humidity and the lightning bugs.
It’s s’mores and cheap beer around a fire pit; it’s bug spray and sunscreen residue on your skin and the shocking splash from a backyard pool or even just a sprinkler to run through as it cools you down and rinses the watermelon juice from your wrists. It’s a late-night Blizzard from Dairy Queen with friends, and pup cups for the dogs who played all day together in the yard.
It’s the way I think of my late friend Zach and cry every time I hear “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” It’s fireworks and sparklers and hot dogs on a grill. It’s the way a leather couch feels on your bare legs as you slide in to watch a movie after a day outside in the sun. The deep, almost overwhelming greenness of the forest as I-81N opens up suddenly to mountains on the way from Charlotte to Roanoke.
When I was working on my first cookbook I would come home after an early morning rowing workout and pour cold brew over ice, opening the back door to the yard as Ender wiggled through my legs to roll around in the grass. I’d sit there with bare feet, in leggings and a sweaty tank top with my coffee and my laptop, under the shade of an oversized umbrella, taking in the morning before that North Carolina heat crept in for the day.
But now I’m here, in what feels like a different world sometimes. Sleeping with open windows as the chilly eucalyptus-scented Bay Area air cools our house down every night. Wearing a sweater every morning, working almost only through nap-time, putting together a 3PM toddler snack--sitting at our kitchen table with an afternoon cup of tea, planning our next trip to the coast to pick strawberries by the ocean as our daughter stacks her blocks and moves her stuffed animals from their woven basket to my grandmother’s light blue armchair. So happy to be where we are, and so sad to be so far away from other places. On days like this I somehow feel homesick and content and melancholy and joyful all at once.
Life is an incredible tangle of feelings and experiences and I’m so grateful for each and every one of them.
But I could use a drive down a country road.