The Scent of Memories

I took my daughter and son to a lavender field today, in honor of the Sequim Lavender Festival, which isn’t too far a drive from my house. It was my son’s birthday and we went to breakfast at a diner in Sequim. The diner was advertising the festival, and I told the kids about it when my oldest (5 years) asked, “Why is there so much lavender here? I like it!”

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“I like it, too. It’s one of my favorite smells,” I told her smiling face. It was then that I decided to take them to a field near bye, the Purple Haze field, which is just lovely:

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I wasn’t convinced they’d be all that interested in the flowers, but I had to take them. You see, when I pick up a sprig of lavender, it automatically reminds me of my father. When I first moved to Washington state for college, my dad took my older sister and me to the Lavender Festival. We went to a few farms on the tour, and it was the first time I’d ever done anything like that. I mean, when you’re seventeen, touring a field of flowers shouldn’t be the highlight of your year, if you’re at all cool, but I have never been cool and it was the highlight of my year. The constant low hum of honey bees, busily slurping up nectar from the fields, never bothering to even land upon your hand, just jumping over your fingers when you reach out to caress the velvet flowers. The husky, syrupy scent sitting in the hot air, like you’re living inside a bottle of essential oils. And the cookies, chocolate, coffee, ice cream, all topped off by that super sweet aroma and taste, your breath flowery for hours after consumption…it was all so delightful, different and, well, fun. I loved that day, the day my father, sister, step-mother and I were able to bond over a purple, flowering bush.

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So taking the kids to the farm held a great deal of significance for me, but I try to temper my expectations for my children. They are 3 and 5, and I expected that the excitement would quickly wear off. Though they loved choosing the stalks to cut, walking down the lanes of lavender and counting the innumerable fat bees, they did tire faster than I would have liked. It’s only natural. So, we took some pictures, and I steered them to the gift shop with barely a bundle of clipped lavender. The cashier suggested I could pick more for the bundle (as they are one price for a bundle no matter the size) and I looked at my tired, sweating children, holding their chosen gifts (simple lavender sachets, complimented by violet ribbons), and just shook my head, sadly. Of course I wanted to stay longer, but the fascination for my little ones was gone not long after taste-testing the honey the lavender bees made, which they made me buy because, as my daughter insisted, “The bees worked so hard to make it.” My son solemnly nodded at his sister’s statement, so it was settled. We bought their sachets, their honey and my meager bundle of lavender, which I figured I would just leave to sit in the car, so it wouldn’t smell so much like kid feet.

Once buckled in, my daughter held her sachet out to me. “Smell it, mom.” I took it from her and breathed in quickly, almost grumpily. Immediately, my mind was taken back to my father, his own lavender in his garden, they day he took us to the fields, how he would sprinkle lavender in with his wood stove during the winter, the mingled mixture of burning wood, smoke, and lavender forever imprinted in my brain as “dad’s” scent. I smiled genuinely at her and I said, “I love that smell. It smells like Papa Root. You didn’t meet him, but that’s what it reminds me of.”

Her eyes widened in defense when she answered, “No. It smells like you. Lavender is a mom smell. When I smell it, I remember you.” Tears filled my eyes, and I tried not to cry for joy, for sorrow, for mourning, for love. The scent of memory is so powerful. If I die young, as my father did, I know that I’ve given my daughter something powerful, a scent memory that will make her smile, that she can access no matter what. We forget what people look like, when we lose them. Not entirely, no, but they become unclear to our mourning minds. But we never forget scent. A man walks by wearing Cool Water cologne, and I think, I remember when Anthony wore that to our first date. He never wears it, anymore, and his scent is different to me, but, no matter what, Cool Water reminds me of our first date.

I wrote a lot about memories in Monochrome because, to me, memory is everything. What we choose to remember can make or break us, as humans. As a mother, when I suffered from a depression so great that I wanted to leave this world, memories of my father (too young to die, removed from the world before he could live), memories of my daughter (her chime laugh, the way she smelled like milk, soft soap and powder), memories of my mother (how her eyes always smile, even when she’s mad), and memories of my husband (how his hair falls into his face in black silk cascades, how he frowns when thinking and sleeping, his forehead crinkling in a familiar pattern) reminded me of my joy.

Think about the scent memories that linger in your mind and what they do for your soul. These powerful bodily responses are so amazing to me, so fathomless and wonderful. They are far more precious than the fuzzy images that my brain can’t seem to settle on the older I get. When I asked the question, “What would you do to protect your most precious memories?” for my book tagline, it wasn’t because I wanted something catchy, though it is that. It was because that question saved me from myself when all I could think was, I want out. At my worst, I chose to remember the beauty of life and it saved me. I planted lilies and lavender for my dad, lit a match and imagined my mother was next to me, smelled my husband’s unnameable scent on his pillow, and breathed in deeply when holding my child. I focused on the memories that brought me joy, and I decided that life was beautiful. I try to remind myself to do that often, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

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