When I was somewhere around 10, my grandparents came to visit us in Germany where we were living at the time. They came for an extended visit and after a few days of visiting at home we all piled into the minivan and went on a European road trip.
Safety regulations being a bit looser then than they are now, My younger brother and I rode in the back of the mini van, amid the suitcases and snacks. Driving from mid Germany to Denmark was no lickety-split undertaking but we had game-boys, and books so we weren't bored. Many may not remember the first versions of the current hand held gaming systems. Far from the web-connected, camera-enabled mini computers you have today; these were gray boxes with green screens and purple buttons. You could play games that were in one color, gray...and the best of those games was tetris; which I currently credit for my ability to pack two babies and 100.00 worth of groceries into a single cart at the grocery store.
While in Denmark we did lots of amazing thing, according to the photos. My own memories of that trip have been worn thin by time and have dwindled to several sensory based glimmers. I remember it being colder than we thought so we purchase coats that had a specific feel to the fabric that I have never been able to find again. I don't recall what happened to mine, but it was soft and warm and it smelled new.
I remember falling asleep beneath a feather stuffed comforter, and the smell of the city, which was a combination of warm bread, river and stale cigarettes. Whenever I catch a whiff of that in my life today, I close my eyes and breathe it in, grasping for a clearer memory of the giant wooden shoes that I stepped into outside of one of the tourist shops, or the McDonald's positioned, quite strategically, in the red-light district.
Europe is vastly different that the United States and things that we tend to hide behind black windows and only hint to on signs are basically just out flapping in the breeze in the streets of Amsterdam. We drove, walked, boated and trained past nude beaches, brothels, "toy" shops and open solicitation. I remember the most common direction from my parents during that vacation was, "Look down!" Look at the floor" It's funny now, and probably was at the time as well, at least to them; but I recall being super irritated about it.
My most dear and distinct memory from that trip is a boat ride we took on the canals. We climbed down in to a glass roofed boat with tables and benches. I sat across from my Grandmother and next to my mother as we motored through the city looking at bridges and buildings. Or that's what we should have been doing. Instead I was having a contest with my grandmother. She would hand me a butter rum life saver and we would both eat them at the same time and whoever had the candy that lasted the longest won that round. There was no score keeping just a candy by candy contest that pitted her against me and I'm certain she let me win when I did.
Growing up in the Army meant that I didn't get a ton of time with my grandparents. When we lived in the states we would drive to Missouri from Maryland on Christmas; and sometimes in the summer. When we were in Missouri, for a week or two, there was a whirlwind of family, parties, people I didn't remember, presents, and then a long drive back to the east coast at the end. It was never enough time. I never wanted to leave, none of us did.
That premium on time with them made this trip stand out to me more than any other in my youth. Having them to ourselves, without the cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, jobs and chores to pull them away was miraculous. We went to a Renaissance festival, slept in what was called a hotel but I'm convinced was actually just someones living room, ate multitudes of amazing food, laughed more than one would have thought possible and made a single special memory that travels around in my heart.
They say that your sense of smell helps you access memories more than any other sense. And I suppose that it must be at least partially true. I cannot smell Jovan White Musk without turning to look for my grandma's smiling face. But for me, almost as strong, is the taste of butter rum life savers. As soon as it touches my tongue I am taken back to that day, on that boat, and even now I try to make it last as long as possible and smile when it finally breaks, remembering that little girl I was and the amazing way that a piece of candy can make you feel like the most important person in the world.