Something Smells Heavenly!

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!


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7 Responses to Something Smells Heavenly!

  1. Cheryl says:

    The smell of gardenias has always been an instantaneous passage back to my childhood and Mom. It is a powerful reminder of that time living in Arizona. I don’t remember the kiddles, but I had a black poodle-shaped bottle full of Avon Roses, Roses perfume that has the same effect. In my married life, the sweet smell of bread baking is one of the things that brings the greatest sense of peace that I am at home. Come to think of it, aside from the previously mentioned gardenias and perfume, most of my smell memories come from food. I can nail the smell of gumbo, pies, Mom’s fried chicken, and beef skillet fiesta! It’s funny the flood of memories I attach to food in the same way you attach to flowers. I’m not sure what that will mean when the memory loss really sets in!

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    • colleendown says:

      Thanks Cheryl, I was hoping someone would share a few of their “scent” memories. Fried chicken and Beel Skillet Fiesta–I may have to whip up a batch and see where they take me. Hopefully, you will never “lose” your ability to make bread–even if everything else is forgotten!

  2. cathy says:

    When I read the part about the dolls, I remembered them! I have smelled that floral smell and in the back of my mind I knew there was a doll with hair that smelled the same…I didn’t know the name, but I remember the dolls! Smell is an amazing thing, but I could never express it quite like you! thanks, again, for writing so beautifully!

    • colleendown says:

      I was so tempted to buy a couple on ebay-but I am sure they have long since lost the smell–it seems like you had several and I had several and my friend Stephanie Lesko had ALL of them!! They were the Polly Pockets of our day–who knows what girls play with now that fits in their hands!

  3. The smell of freshly cut hay is probably the strongest memory maker for me. I would spend my summers driving tractor for my dad as he hauled hay for the farmers through the summer. I enjoyed sitting in the sun on a hay bale eating lunch with my dad and brother. I am reminded of my mother from the hot smell of an iron heating polyester fibers. She would set up the ironing board and watch cartoons with us–usually looney tunes. Thank you for writing so beautifully to spark such pleasing memories.

    • colleendown says:

      Isn’t it interesting how many different things evoke our memories. Being a city girl, I missed the hay but certainly not the ironing smell. I had forgotten that one (nothing that my kids have ever smelled that is for sure). Maybe our kids will smell chlorine and think of home 🙂

  4. jessica says:

    I just noticed this post. One of my favorites for sure. Your writing makes me want to buy gardenia perfume and go on date night. I am glad my flowers could take you back in time. I just started buying Tide laundry soap again and the smell makes me think of home. Thanks for reminding us of the blessing of smelling. I hope this is a chapter in your flower book.

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