(written in honor of my gram’s birthday, February 13th)
Recently I’ve become acutely aware of how closely my memories of my grandmother are tied to my sense of smell. Some of the memories are intentional; when I miss her most, all I have to do is start baking. The smell of chocolate chip cookies or bread baking conjures up pleasant memories of many days spent underfoot in the corner of Gram’s kitchen, where I hovered at her elbow, begging for my chance to stir the Thanksgiving gravy or beat the egg whites for her amazing Austrian dumplings.
The most pleasant memories, however, are the ones I bump into quite unexpectedly. Take, for instance, Irish Spring soap. Just a whiff takes me back to wash day at Gram’s house. My favorite part was helping run the fresh, clean, one-hundred percent cotton sheets through the mangle, an old-fashioned ironing contraption. The mangle squeaked and moaned as the sheets were pulled inch by inch over the hot steamy roller arm. Once the last bit of sheet had passed through, you quickly pulled the freshly pressed sheet out, folded it once more and repeated the process. Gram then carefully tucked the sheets away in a drawer amid a bar or two of Irish Spring soap. On a hot summer night, nothing brings on a restful sleep like a cool, crisply creased cotton sheet and the fresh smell of Irish Spring soap.
Then there’s furniture polish. Although it emerges less frequently at my house, when it does, it brings to mind many Saturday mornings spent cleaning Gram’s house. Dusting was my favorite chore. Each and every knick-knack had special meaning to me. As I fingered the old books on the shelves, my love of the classics grew. The model frigate inspired dreams of faraway places. The little china girl with the poodle dog set my heart on having my own dog someday. Even the fine china and crystal had an impact on me, as I began to dream about the day I would host family gatherings and cook the holiday dinners.
More memories come to mind as I pass through the cosmetics section of a department store. Usually a kiss and hug from Gram left a bit of Hollywood Extra cold cream on your cheek. It was her standard makeup and gave her warm Italian skin a bit of a shiny glow. But on special occasions, she donned her Estee Lauder Private Collection fragrance. I can still picture her, dressed to the nines and decked out in her fur coat, ready to take my mother, sister and me to the Nutcracker ballet one year. As we stood in line, the sweet fragrance of her perfume filled the air and my girlish heart swelled with pride to have such a classy lady for my gram.
So many wonderful scents – so many precious memories. I realize now my Gram’s entire life was a fragrance that delighted and refreshed all who knew her. Since her passing, I’ve become especially sensitive to scent. The slightest whiff of lilac blossoms in spring or a baby freshly powdered after its bath remind me to stop and enjoy all the loveliness around me, and remember a beautiful life whose fragrance still lingers with me.