The smell of nostalgia: chocolate fudge and horse manure

It’s funny to look at a photograph from your childhood and your first thought is of chocolate fudge and horse manure. It’s an odd, but nostalgic combination of smells.

I was digging through some old family photos recently when I ran across this picture of my brother and I as kids. Our family was on vacation on Mackinac Island, the site of an American Revolutionary War-era fort, which is best known for two things: its ban on motor vehicles and fudge. The small island’s population includes an estimated 600 horses and only 492 year-round human residents. It is less than 4 square miles in area yet has at least 15 or so fudge shops. The smell is unforgettable.

The photograph evokes two strikingly contrasting emotions. The first is joy. My brother, Jeffrey, looks around 8 years old, which means I am 9. It’s the 80s and I’m wearing coolots. Jeffrey’s arms are wrapped around me, hugging me tightly. We are so close.

Simultaneously my heart aches with the pang of sadness. My brother died in 2003. Years later, I can’t help but wonder, were we as close as I remember or do I remember us being as close as I wish we were? It’s a question I often ruminate. I’m not sure I’ll ever settle on an answer.

Then I look at the photograph and study his little boy hands, grasping my waist, and our faces, grinning with unfettered joy. In that photograph, we are the happiest kids on earth. And in that moment, I have no doubt that we were inseparable. It comforts me and I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that of all the photos from the trip – of us eating fudge, of us riding horses – that my parents took that one.

Thank you, and be kind.

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