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closer to home

The five human senses—six if you follow Bruce Willis and M. Night Shyamalan—are gifts, as is the rising of the sun, we humans take for granted, but experience daily. I’ve noticed how each of the senses at different times can send a signal to the brain, which in turn brings a thought or feeling to mind. Touch and taste are probably the least stimulating of the five, but certain foods when eaten will indeed take me back to a place and time from my distant past.  When I eat spaghetti and meat balls, for example, I always remember the fact that when it was my turn to choose the meal for the family, and only on our birthday were we given such a privilege, I chose that particular combination.

At times, random things I see also spur my mind, but the end result is usually more of confusion, and what it is I’m supposed to remember is often outside my grasp. “I’ve seen that person before, but where?” I then dwell on it for a time before I eventually give up. Smells are also very stimulating and have much the same effect on me. If I’m driving down the road on a hot summer day with my windows down, the smell of freshly cut grass or a farmer’s newly plowed field will evoke specific memories. I can even recall the smell of a certain girl’s perfume from the eighth grade, although I don’t remember the name of the fragrance, and when I do smell it, I’m taken right back to that all school dance and I can see and feel the entire experience as if it was yesterday.

The sense that drives the most memories in me, however, is by far the sense of sound. If I hear a red wing blackbird or meadowlark, I’m immediately transported to a dirt road, a farmer’s field, a stream, with fishing pole and tackle box in hand; grasshoppers eluding me as I walk through a field of knee-high grass. But music is the most influential of all the sounds that evoke memories. And the memories are very distinct as to place and time; more so than any of the others senses. When I want to go back in my mind to specific times in my life, there are albums I can play that will help me in the journey.

There is a song by Grand Funk Railroad for example that brings a very distinct occasion to my mind; it was the day I first heard the song. A friend of mine borrowed his father’s military Jeep and invited me to ride around with him prior to meeting up with the rest of the crew later that night. It was a warm summer day and as we drove east out-of-town, the Jeep was in convertible mode. The feeling of the wind and the open road as we cruised down the highway was one of complete freedom. My friend brought along a portable, battery operated cassette player—the Jeep not being equipped with a radio—a precursor to the boom box. He instructed me to insert a specific tape into the player and as the music played, an unfamiliar song came on. With the first few chords I was hooked on my new favorite, I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home). Listen and enjoy here. To my friend’s dismay, I played that song over and over for hours on end.

The song remains a favorite to this day and whenever I hear it I’m taken back to the summer day in the Army Jeep, just the three of us—Grand Funk, my friend and me—sailing down the highway with the warm summer breeze and the music giving us a sense of freedom and independence that sums up much of the teen experience. Everybody, listen to me, and return me my ship. I’m your captain, I’m your captain, though I’m feeling mighty sick.