Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Smells and Memories

Last Friday, before we went out of town, I had the weekly errands to finish, like clothes to the cleaners, reimbursables to the bank, and so forth. I also had a speech to write and deliver that afternoon to a hodgepodge audience in my empty front living area now arranged like a mini-theatre. Needless to say, the day would be busy and I didn't want to be relegated to a lunch of cracker bits and a tuna pack again. So, I ran over to Central Market to grab an interesting beverage and a California Roll to encourage a midday break in a rewarding sort of way.

I picked up a few snacks for our trip and some other staples we needed. Because I was at the market before 9:00 A.M., the sushi chefs were not quite done making the rolls of the day. I was told I would have to wait 5-10 minutes, so I went to the middle of the market to read greeting cards, smell the essential oils and scrubbing salts, and sample some perfume. After passing over many lovely bottles, I chose a warm scent called Gold Leaf and sprayed it on my left forearm. I picked up my sushi, paid for my things, and headed for home.

The further from the store and the closer to home I got, I realized that lovely warm smell was filling my car. All of a sudden, something in it became familiar: it smelled just like my Granny. She didn't wear Gold Leaf. She wore a combination of things: some Avon scents and a brand of perfume called Imari mixed in with her shampoo, her face powder, and her laundry detergent. All of a sudden, Gold Leaf was all of that to me, and though she's been dead for eight years, she was back on the Earth again.

I have a lifetime of lovely memories with my Granny. She was my friend 'til the end. She loved me through everything, and rarely judged me in a negative way. She taught me the way of the garage sale, and never failed to slip me a twenty from her "hidey-hole" money (a secret little stash of cash kept in a hidden pocket of her worn wallet that absolutely everyone knew about). Despite everything I have with my Granny, when her scent came to me, only one memory returned right away:

My Granny was the one who came to tell me my Daddy died. I still to this day have no idea where my mom was, but I was home alone in our apartment in Tulsa that morning that she knocked on my door. She woke me up from a deep teenage sleep, and I recall how bright the sun was behind her when I groggily opened up the door. The highway patrol had gone to my sister's house that morning with news of the accident, and somewhere in that, Granny had been called to come to my house. She told me he had been killed in his truck much earlier that morning after he had fallen asleep at the wheel. This was July 15, 1994 -- five days before I turned 18.

My dad and I had not been around one another for a while. He had made some very inappropriate decisions with regard to the way he treated me, and after being encourged in family counseling to protect myself, I stopped seeing him several months before. There's more to that story, but it's for another day. Despite the choices, despite the separation, I loved my Daddy, and was brokenhearted at the news of his death. I cried for the good that had been there, and I cried for the bad that would never be resolved.

Granny stayed with me, sat beside me, and rubbed my back. She waited for the tears to slow, and then she took me to Red Lobster. (Even now, I think that is so strange. I look at events like these in my life and just think of The Royal Tenenbaums or some other quirky cult favorite. My life often feels like one of those weird movies you just watch with a peculiarly affectionate disbelief.)

We were there all alone. They had just opened and we were the only customers. I sat there tearfully choking down cheddar biscuits thinking even then how strange it was to be there. The Red Lobster was where we went with Granny to celebrate. In her mind, it was the top of the line restaurant -- there was nothing better. I still cannot imagine why that was the restaurant of choice to comfort someone in the death of their father. "Sorry your dad died, now have some fried fish." I know it was a choice to bring comfort to me, and I know it was a sacrifice on her part -- sort of a statement that my comfort was worth the very best she had. Previously, Red Lobster had always been about date nights with Papaw, and joyful occasions with friends and relations, but now her favorite outing locale was changed by death. I know she never returned without thinking of that sad summer day. I know I didn't. That gesture and that sacrifice bound me to her in a far deeper way than I even knew possible.

How strange of all the things to come to mind when her scent was again upon me was that telling, those tears, and that meal. I may buy a bottle of Gold Leaf to see what comes up next.

"Remember the days of long ago;
think about generations past..."
Deuteronomy 32:7a

"It is now not as it hath been of yore; --
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day
The things which I have seen I now can see no more."
--William Wordsworth
Ode on Intimations of Immortality


  • The Dukes Family

    Wow, such big memories tied into a scent ... it's really amazing. Your Granny sounded like a neat lady and it sounds like she loved you so much. Keep those stories coming. :)

  • Amy

    What a sweet story. I think that God uses our senses in the nicest, most comforting ways sometimes. What a gift to remember a touching, important moment with your granny. I had one of those just last night about my granny too.

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