Fragrance of memories linger in our minds

Isn’t it funny how our minds connect certain fragrances and smells with memories?

My dad sometimes smoked a pipe and the most fragrant of his tobaccos were apple and cherry vanilla. Now, I’ve never smoked so I don’t know for sure but it seems like that would be a noxious flavored gas to inhale into your lungs. However, if I had to be around tobacco smoke, those are the least objectionable odors.

My grandparents retired from St. Louis to Florida in the late 60s, back when men actually retired at 65, took a pension and lived out their days in a sunny locale. I’ve come to believe that their generation is likely the last one to retire under those circumstances and the last where the husband was able to make a living for his family while the wife stayed home.

When they still lived in St. Louis, we’d visit them on Sundays after church. They were Baptists and we attended the Church of Christ but we’d get together for roast at Grandpa and Nana’s house after services. I’ve never had pot roast as good as Nana’s. You could smell it from the driveway and it meant Sunday afternoons to me.

After they moved to Florida, Mom and Dad would pack us into the car and drive the endless hours to Dunnellon to visit them. I’m the oldest of five but that was when cars were made for larger families so the trip wasn’t too bad. I loved and missed my grandpa so the long drive was worth it.

I was about 8 or 9 when they moved so I used to write him — this was pre-Internet and cell phones. He was so excited to get a letter from me that he’d carry it in his wallet and take it out to show his friends and neighbors. Sadly, I didn’t know that until after he died or I’d have written him every day.

Staying with them also meant breakfast with them, which I didn’t experience when they lived right up the road from us. Grandpa got up before everyone else, put on coffee, cooked eggs and fried bacon. To this day, the smell of bacon frying and coffee percolating means Grandpa to me.

When he got lung cancer and was hospitalized, we drove down from Macon to see him for what would be the last time. My Uncle Bob came down from St. Louis and we all stayed with Nana. I went to bed wondering who would fry the bacon and put on the coffee the next morning.

I thought I was dreaming when that fragrant mixture wafted into the guest room along with the bright Florida sunshine. I got up and walked into the kitchen to find Uncle Bob standing at the stove with a fork in his hand, watching over the splattering strips of fatty, delicious pork. I didn’t realize how poignant that moment was to me until a few years ago when I tearfully recalled the incident for my cousin, Patty, Bob’s older daughter.

Decades later, the experience of emotions evoked by smell came full circle when I met one of my daughters and her family at a restaurant for a birthday dinner. Michelle hugged me, pulled back and then leaned in again for another hug. When she pulled back a second time, I looked at her quizzically. “Is something wrong?” I said.

She looked at me with tears puddling up in her eyes.

“You smell like you did when I was little,” she said.