A few weeks ago, as I walked around Jessica’s yard taking pictures of her flowers, I made the comment, “I wish my camera could capture the scents.” She said, “You will just have to do it with your writing Mom!” I have been thinking of that ever since.
Stepping out of the car and breathing in the warm air, heavy with the scents of blooming Southern flowers, I was transported to another time and place. Suddenly, a rush of memories surrounded me. The feeling was so overwhelming that I had to try and regain my bearings. As I moved through the yard, from plant to plant, I found myself inhaling recollections of people and places buried deep in my past. Science tells us that our olfactory nerves are connected to the part of the brain associated with memory. The sense of smell is the first thing lost in Alzheimer’s disease. Even though I can’t remember why I walked out into the kitchen half the time, on this afternoon, in my daughter’s beautiful yard, I was remembering so much more.
The waxy green leaves and white rose-like flowers of the gardenia bush instantly took me back to my childhood home. My mom was dressed in her nicest Sunday dress, her hair freshly ratted, teased and poofed up high. She had on red stiletto shoes with pointy toes that, even as a child, I wondered how her toes fit inside. Her lipstick matched the shoes. My Dad was still dressed in his work clothes, a dark suit and tie, a closely cut crew cut and black, horned rimmed glasses. There were cuff links on his white shirt. Instructions were given to the babysitter and goodnights were said. As my mother bent to kiss me goodbye, the scent of Jungle Gardenia perfume-her favorite, lingered behind, wrapping me securely in her love. All was right in the world at that moment. My parents loved each other and loved me and tomorrow when I woke up there would be little paper umbrellas or coconut shaped glasses, souvenirs from their evening out on the town, for me to play with. It was all there, in one whiff, 45 years later.
Moving to the back fence, I found the Star Jasmine, filling the entire neighborhood with its smell and then transporting me to my bedroom floor where my Kiddles Dolls surrounded me. These small two-inch dolls were the rage among the first grade girls in the 1960’s. Kiddles in lockets, Kiddles in pop bottles and my favorite Kiddles in perfume jars. The blooming Jasmine smell reminded me of their smell and of a time when I was “big” and life was “Liddle.” There were no problems too big to deal with and laying my Kiddles side by side on the floor, everything was in order and organized in my small bedroom world.
A few days later, I cut several branches of purple lilacs. Again, I was home. This time it was in the backyard. Right behind the swing set, that my parents had so patiently put together from the hundreds of pieces in the box from Sears and Roebuck, were the lilacs. A large hedge of bushy green divided my world from all the other neighbors. These were the same leaves that my mom used to teach me to “whistle through a leaf.” The big leaves made a deep, base sound. The tiny leaves a high pitch. Learning to pump a swing and stretch my legs towards the sky, I would inhale their fragrance and in my childhood mind ponder Heaven. I wondered, if I could just swing high enough, would I be able to touch it. Both of my grandparents had recently passed away and swinging high, I would feel like, maybe I could somehow get closer to them, just like the picture in my Little Golden Book of the Angel Child. It was all so simple. Heaven was near then and seemed a little nearer once again, as I drew in one last deep breath of the fresh cut lilacs.
Warm memories of happy times all wrapped up in the soft velvety leaves of a single flower. What gift-wrapping the universe uses to store small packages of love. On another morning, tears were close to the surface; homesickness had set in for easier times when there were more answers than questions. Stepping outside my bedroom door, I leaned over and put my nose into a single, blooming pink rose. For a moment, bypassing every logical pathway, security once again swept over me-all was at peace in my universe-but only for an instant, only long enough to remind me that somewhere, long ago and maybe far away was a home. Many, many times since, I have tried to recreate that sacred experience, captured in that single rose. I only now have the faint recollection of the morning and the message, but its memory has always been enough to calm me and remind me, just like a whiff of Jungle Gardenia perfume, that I am loved and home is only a breath away!