Lions and Tigers and Bears and Me

bernie at amusement park

There are about a dozen memories I have of my childhood before we came to America in December of 1949. I know that most people have trouble recalling much of their lives before they turned five, but I was fortunate that my mother took loads of photos of me as a child. Almost all the events that I do recall happen to be memorialized in an image that helped keep the memory alive all these years.

In this photo, I am 3 years old and enjoying a summer day in 1948 in Germany at an amusement park. The reason I recall this day, aside from the visual reminder, is that the fellow dressed in the bear outfit smelled exactly like a wet dog drying himself near a radiator.

Other smells that day were the pungent odor of shoe polish from the electric cars that all of us children rode around on metal tracks and burnt sugar from the shooting gallery. I have no doubt that smell is a greater mnemonic than sight or sound, those can be fooled by smoke and mirrors and interrupting noise. Haven't we all seen those optical illusions of circles that appear larger than they really are, or lines that appear to bend but in actuality do not? But it's very difficult to fool the nose.

I used to raise mice as a hobby about fifteen years ago, at one time having more than a thousand and raising more than 50 babies a day, which I traded for mouse food with a local pet shop. I could drop an absolutely black mouse into a pile of other black mice and they would spot in an instant the new intruder although in appearance he was indistinguishable from the rest. The only way I could put a strange mouse into an existing village was to put Vaseline on the noses of the local residents so they would not be able to smell him. It would take more than a day for them to regain their sense of smell and by that time the stranger absorbed the smell of the village and was undetectable as an immigrant. Shows you the value of assimilation.

So what is the point here? Do not take for granted what your children can experience and remember. If you're pregnant, rub fruit juices on your belly to give your future child a treat. Squeeze flower petals into your navel and let the fragrance soak for a few days. Hum songs. Expose your belly to bright lights and music, you're not alone.

And when they are little children take them to parks and zoos and fill their rooms with color and mosaics on the walls. Let their minds explore the wonder of the universe before our school system starts to fill their minds with the gray dullness of liberal nonsense. With any luck they'll remember their childhood as that most wonderful of times when everything was new and nothing was impossible.

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