I have one of those noses. From twenty feet away with my eyes closed I know a diaper needs to be changed, what perfume you are wearing, if the day is wet or dry. This morning, on a short trip to Bainbridge Island, I leaned over my cousin’s porch rail, took a deep breath and immediately knew the blackberries were ripe for picking — the heady scent of hot dirt and perfectly ripened fruit almost knocked me over. And made me immensely sad.
August is blackberry time on the island. Over the last twenty years, if I was lucky enough to make a trip out here when they were ripe, I was put right to work. Manicures and freckles be damned: my cousin and I would pick madly and for hours, wearing long sleeved shirts dripping under the dry, driving sun, usually in her “secret” spot overlooking Puget Sound, sea lions and keening eagles keeping us company. Next, we would haul the overflowing buckets to my Aunt’s house, where we took over her tiny kitchen to make the berries into jam. Under Aunt Marion’s sharp gaze and enduring her dry quips about ladies and purple tongues and unsightly stained fingers we worked like dervishes; spinning between the dark brown cabinets, electric stove and worn linoleum tiles, taking turns monitoring the simmering sugar and berries, keeping the boiling jars and lids in check, cleaning the funnels and spills. There was laughter, sweat and gossip. We drank endless cups of the house coffee, Nescafé.
How much we made, how deeply we sweat, the mess we made in her kitchen was never important; the time together was blessed.
My Aunt died in April. This morning the scent of earth and ripened berries broke my heart in two, renting a new little hole in my chest. I almost skipped going down to check the bushes; I missed her so much, the loss of something and some one I loved so strong. But then I took a long, deep breath of sun ripened earth, brambles and fruit and pushed some happy into that opening instead — I thought of her chuckle as she ribbed me, her face of joy when I made a scone to go with that fresh jam, the approval on her face when we were scrubbed up, scrubbed down and finished.
Girl time. Make some for yourself whatever gender you relate to: breathe in the scent of those moments because someday, that same inhale will bring the scent of a memory — a scent that will stop you in your shoes — yes. And make you hurt — yes.
But also make you smile when you remember.
This is how we mend.
Apricot Jam, my cousin’s house, Bainbridge Island, July 2019
3 thoughts on “Scent of a Memory”
Tried to leave a comment yesterday. Didn’t seem to go through. Did it register on your end?
Hi Alex, I’m just getting to read this and so grateful to have been so busy with grand kids visiting and travel. As always your writings bring on some memory. This time it is an aunt of steve’s Who took in our kids as her own. They called her Noni and she was there grandmother more than steve’s Mom.
she lived across the street and when her blackberries were ripe she would put on a pair of farmer jeans and a long sleeved shirt. This outfit was only worn when she picked blackberries. She actually never wore slacks. It must have been a sweet memory for her too.
Take care Nan