Death · Family · Life-Defining Moments · NaNoWriMo · Writing

NaNoWriMo: Scent and Memory

Prompt: Describe a smell and the fond or unpleasant memories that odor brings back. Scientists say that the part of our brain that processes smell is the oldest, most primal section and common to frogs as well as humans. You  walk down a city street and catch a whiff of perfume that an old sweetheart used to wear and your heart breaks right there in the crosswalk. Write about it.

My grandfather smoked more consistently than a chimney. Especially in his later years, he could always be found in one of three places smoking: the south patio, the garage, or the front porch. He rolled his own cigarettes with hands that were soft as worn leather, and every time I hugged him the smell of his tobacco hung on both of us. Now that he’s gone, whenever I smell that brand of tobacco – I still don’t know which brand – I think of him. The smell is herbal and sweet, with a surprising lack of smokeyness.

It’s strange, because usually when I smell this particular smell I am not near anyone who is smoking. Sometimes I find it in my grandmother’s house that she shared with him for fifty years, but most often I discover it while walking down the street.

The last conversation I remember having with my grandfather before he was hospitalized was about my life. I was his princess, his peachie, his jenum, and he wanted to hear about my plans. At that point, I had only just applied for university abroad, and he was so proud of me. I remember feeling like I could do nothing wrong in his presence. I remember him sitting in his chair reading with the gold reading lamp, wearing the 90’s style reading glasses – you know the ones. Huge rounded squares that kids my generation laugh at when we see photos of us with our parents. He used to play backgammon with me, and dominoes. Usually he would let me win, but not always. Whenever I visited him, he spoiled me. We didn’t always need to talk; he understood the beauty of silence. He was, like me, a sweet tooth, and his handwriting, until he broke his wrist in his mid 70s, was exquisite. I’m almost certain it’s because of him I love fountain pens.

The day he died, he didn’t smell like him, which I’m grateful for. There was only a ghost of him left. I felt the softness of his hands, and the weakness that had developed; I saw the confusion and fear in his eyes, and heard the pain in his voice. Although I am happy I could be with him until the very end, I’m even happier that my memories of him are not clouded by my last memory of him. Whenever I smell that tobacco smell, I don’t remember the frail person in the hospital bed connected to machines, nor the person I had to help hold down when he struggled. I don’t think of the thirty hours I spent on the verge of tears, my heart breaking.

What I do remember is a feeling of comfort, always. A constant in my life which gave me faith in myself, and a thirst for knowledge. I remember dominoes, and books, and failed attempts at chess. I remember go fish, and days in the sun on the patio. I remember tea in the garden, and a scratchy accent calling for “my peachie” from his chair in the living room. I remember his old red sweater with the holes in the elbows, soft white hair, and a roughness on my cheek when he hugged me goodbye. I am reminded that, no matter what I do, I had a brilliant, caring man in my life for almost 18 years who loved me without constraint and unconditionally, and who makes me want to be my very best, and to believe that I can be my very best, every single day.

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