Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Fragrance of Her Life

(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.


Debbie said...

Can I be the first to say that her fragrance lingers in my heart and my mind as well. In fact it spills over into my day to day and the kid's lives, too. I often think of her little sayings, her funny poems, and her stories that were life lessons to me in a gentle, roundabout way. Oh how I miss her. I long to hold her soft hand, sit in her cozy kitchen and play cards or count change, or go for rides again on our Saturday jaunts to the post office, the bank, and the grocery store (in that same order always, of course!). One of her favorite expressions stays in my mind, "Oh how we laughed!" Wasn't that just the way she was? Forever young. You are so much like her. Thanks for writing this. 143!

Becky said...

What a sweet post to your Gram. So beautiful and moving. Thanks for sharing that with us. Wonderful memories!!

I made peach preserves a few years ago. After putting on the lids I went in the other room to read a book while they cooled, and started hearing the pops of the lids as they cooled into a vacuum pack.

Immediately I was swooped back into the '60s when I would help my Gradma do the canning, and we'd hear those pops all day long.

It was such a warm and wonderful feeling when I heard those in my own kitchen long after she was gone.

Tami Boesiger said...

This is a very sweet post, Dianne. Thanks for the reminder to "stop and smell the roses" from time to time.

gail@more than a song said...

Such a lovely post Dianne, so sweet! I think sometimes that things I see remind me of one of my grandmothers, more than a smell but maybe I've just never stopped to think about it. It sounds like you got to spend lots of fun times with your gram....I long for that with my little ones and hope that one day I get more time with them.

Viv said...

You have brought tears to my eyes this afternoon. Thanks for sharing your memories! Hasn't God blessed you to give you such a dear gram that loved you and spent precious time with you. I pray that Quin might have memories as wonderful as yours.

Katrina said...

What a beautiful post, Dianne! Such a sweet tribute to your Gram and to all the memories you hold dear.

I once read that our sense of smell is the sense most intimately associated with our memories -- smell can bring back a memory more quickly and more intense than hearing, or even seeing something. I thought that was interesting, and your post reminded me of all the scent-associated memories lingering in my own mind.

Anonymous said...

Our "Little Gram"...you and Deb both brought me to tears. I miss her so much and am thankful for all the memories you have of her. She was a fun mother with so much wisdom....and what a tender heart. Uncle Tom and I used to call her "mealy mouth" because she always turned the other cheek. Little did we realize she didn't talk Christ she lived Christ.
What I wouldn't give to have an hour with her....Guess I will have to wait until heaven. Thank you again girls. Love, Mom

Bev said...

This made me realize that of course you're right, the sense of smell floods us with memories. My mother always, always smelled like Jergens lotion and when she'd take too much, she'd have me hold out my hands and cover me with the excess. Such little things can bring back sweet, sweet memories, can't they!

Susanne said...

I love this post, Dianne! I grew up with only get the opportunity to ever meet my grandmother's once in my whole life. (They lived in Europe and only saw them once when I was 10.) I don't have these kinds of precious memories, but I'm so glad that my kid's will of their grandmother's.

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

Yes, I know. I can just picture my grandmother's 50's tiled bathroom and smell her Camay soap.

Thanks for taking me back.