They say the brain rewires itself to accommodate for losing one or more senses. A blind person develops great hearing, a deaf person great sight. Neither deaf nor blind, I have some loss of both. The result: a finely tuned sense of smell that intertwines with my memories and emotions. The aroma of cut grass transports me to summer. Cigarette smoke in the bathroom reminds me of my abusive grandfather. Loves Baby Soft powder scent embodies the year 1987. The pages of a book smell of escape.
My grandmother’s perfume exudes love.
Grandma Darleen shined like a beacon in an often dark childhood. She lived in California and I in Washington, and I could count on at least one visit with her every year. Like a tornado, she’d swoop into my life and show me the possible. Broadway plays, Universal Studios, Monterey Bay, a cabin in Strawberry, California—these a few of many things I would not have experienced otherwise.
She died suddenly in 2000, alone.
I—the only grownup in the family capable of handling her affairs—flew to San Jose, alone. I identified her body at the morgue. I signed the paperwork and made the arrangements. And I sorted through her belongings. And, from those meager possessions, I inherited a most precious treasure—a bottle of her signature perfume.
When I have a rough day and doubts creep in, I take the bottle from the drawer, remove the lid, close my eyes, and inhale. In an instant, I sit on her lap again, blanketed in soft comfort by her fleshy arms and ample bosom. Her deep voice vibrates in the ear I have pressed to her chest.
I breathe her into me and I remember.
I remember she fed my love of reading by providing an endless supply of books, giving me an escape into worlds better than my own. I read and re-read every Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nancy Drew, Black Beauty, and Mark Twain she sent.
I remember how she loved to play Scrabble, cribbage, rummy, and pinochle. I remember her patience in teaching me. I remember how we shared a love of figure skating and the Olympic Games. I remember her pride when I graduated from college—the first in the family.
Tears always come with the happy memories and bring the release I need. I feel her presence encouraging me to carry on. And when the doubts pass, I carefully stash the bottle of love in the back of the drawer until I need her again.