Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Olfactory Memories

I have lived a good life. I don't mean I've always been good. Heaven knows that's not the truth. But I have have lived a good life. And no, I'm not about to die or anything. At least not that I know of. I had a boyfriend in college who used to say "I could step out in front of a North/South (our campus buses) tomorrow."

But that's not my point.

Last night I took Toby out for a walk before bedtime. I stood there in the dark silence, feeling the heat that was still all around me, listening to the crickets and the tree frogs. I took a deep breath and that's when I smelled it. Cows. I know I've said this before but I love the smell of cows and hay and barns and yes, even manure. My grandfather was a dairy farmer and all of those smells take me back to my childhood and spending time on their farm.

I'm not sure why it is, but olfactory memories are stronger for me than anything else. A smell can take me back to a particular place and time faster even than music. Perhaps it's because my olfactory memories are usually tied to pleasant events while songs often aren't, but who knows?

As I stood there last night and inhaled, my eyes pricked with tears as I thought about my grandparents. I have such happy memories of staying with them. Though my grandmother never really kept snacks that I liked -- she only had fig newtons and cracker jacks -- she could usually be counted on to have a homemade pound cake or a chocolate pie on hand, though I never fully appreciated her meringues.

I can remember so clearly standing outside their house, listening the window units as they cooled the house. Once you went inside, the noise of the air conditioners didn't quite drown out the crickets or the whippoorwills. As I climbed into bed, I'd bury my nose in the sheets, smelling of Gain and sunshine, one of the cleanest smells there is.

My PaPa's truck had a singular smell too -- hay, mixed with hot vinyl, dust, and tobacco. He always kept a spittoon on the floor hump between the driver's and passenger's side. If you were riding three abreast, you had to be careful not to put your foot in the spittoon if you were riding in the middle. His barn was a completely different set of smells -- dirt, gasoline, old oil, and tractors. He had a huge bin of nuts, bolts, and random parts that I used to love to sift through. We'd all take turns climbing up on the big old tractors, pretending to drive.

My grandparents were interesting people. They raised seven children, starting their family during the height of the depression. My grandfather was a funny, funny man and he got most of the attention. My grandmother, quieter, was a faithful woman -- faithful to her church and to her family. It was only after I became a mother myself that I truly appreciated what a strong woman she must have been.

My grandfather died the year after Mr. Daddy and I got married. My grandmother died when Bubba had just turned two. I grieve sometimes that my grandparents never met my children, but I grieve more that my children never really got to know my grandparents.

Last night as I stood there, I missed them. And I missed the simplicity of my childhood. But for a moment, standing there, smelling that glorious blend of summer smells, I went back.

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6 comments:

el-e-e said...

Love this. I also have cattle farming in my childhood memory bank, and the smells are inexplicably wonderful. :)

So glad you're blogging again. Have I said that?

Leslie said...

Bubba and Punkin will know your PaPa and Grandma through your stories, but I know what you mean. I feel the same way about your grandparents and mine. They were special people.

maggiegracecreates said...

my dad was a mechanic. He was killed in a job accident when i was 15. but i wrote many moons ago at maggiegrace, a story about being at the mexican place in commerce and bursting into tears because a guy who smelled like my dad passed the table.

instantaneous and strong emotions come from that smell.

much love.

Lauren said...

My grandmother passed away last October, and I miss her terribly. She always made a point to tell me how much she liked my writing and felt like she really knew my kids (they only met once) even though we were four states apart. Some of the things that she passed on to me still have the smell of her house..and sometimes I'll just go to smell them and the smell is so comforting. I know how you feel! I make sure to tell my kids little things about her, so she will never be forgotten.

Queen Mother said...

What a wonderful post and loving tribute to two special people...I'm so glad you had the privilege to love and be loved by them.

Dawn said...

Great post, Leandra! Smells bring me back to moments in my past very quickly, as well. Our bodies and brains are amazing.