Scent affects my consciousness more lately than it ever did, perhaps because my other senses are getting less acute to the point where I need tri-focals and I say “What?” a lot. Smells affect my mood and I’m allowing them to. They resurrect old feelings, vaguely pleasant ones mostly, and when there’s been time to indulge them, I do. They’re taking me places, like daydreams do, places in my memory when I’m a boy and the world is new. They remind me that each day is new at every stage in our lives. Anything can happen.
Sometimes images come with the scents in which I’m walking or riding along on a bicycle or in a car with the window open. Or, I’m standing, tilting my head up to smell something in the breeze as I’ve seen animals do. I’m a child who has just stepped out and closed the door behind me and I’m smelling what’s in the wind, looking for a clue about what the day may bring.
My wife offered good advice when I decided to retire from my primary profession - teaching. “Don’t take on anything new for a year,” she suggested. “Try to relax and see what happens. Then decide what you want to do.” There were two other jobs I continued with: one is writing this column each week. The other is managing property. Schedules for both are flexible. Each day unfolds as I design it, or allow it. Not everything is subject to my control, of course, but many days a lot of things are. If I want to smell what’s on the wind, I usually take the time. Often I’m alone in beautiful settings, especially this time of year. Autumn in New England has its own fragrances and they take me back to many dozens of previous falls I’ve walked through and smelled. Thoughts and feelings come and go as I stroll through crispy leaves under skeletal ashes and maples. Life is good.
One never knows what the day will present, however. We may encounter something or hear bits of news that augur profound changes ahead. Some days are spent absorbing the news and adapting to it. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not, but always interesting. I simply cannot remember the last day I was bored.
|Claire, Lila, Henry, Luke|
Every Tuesday but one since last July I’ve spent with grandchildren - helping daughter Ann deal with new twin boys, Luke and Henry. Mostly, I’m with their sisters: Claire, who is four now, and Lila, who will be three on New Year’s Eve. Ann takes care of the twins, now almost eight months old and growing fast. Tuesdays, I’m a grandfather all day.
Claire is deep. She watches me arrive each week, but doesn’t interact until she’s ready. She observes. Sometimes, later on, she’ll tell me her thoughts. Her little sister, Lila, lights up immediately - always spontaneous, always in the moment. One afternoon Lila walked over to me, put her arms up and said, “I want to give you a hug and a kiss.” Those are always welcome, of course, but her timing was a little out of the ordinary. Picking her up, I asked her why she got that urge.
“Because you don’t have a Mommy,” she said.
I savored the hug and kiss, put her down and said, “Thanks, but I do have a Mommy, you know.”
“No you don’t,” said Lila.
“Yes, I do, and her name is Ma,” I said and then paused. “You know Ma, right? She comes over and helps your Mommy sometimes.” My mother is a spritely, eighty-nine-year-old who drives over and still gets down on the floor to play with her great-grandchildren.
“Ma’s not your mommy,” said Lila.
“She is my mommy,” I said, “and she gives me hugs and kisses. But I like to get them from you too.”
Claire was observing and listening to all this in her typical, quiet way, and it seemed a good time to teach about family relationships. “Ma is my mother and I’m her son,” I began.
Lila still looked skeptical.
“I’m your Mommy’s father,” I continued, going over to Ann and hugging her.
“Grampy is my Dada,” Ann said.
“Ann is my daughter,” I said with my arm around her. “You are my granddaughter.”
|Lila and Claire|
“I’m not your granddaughter,” said Lila.
“Okay,” I said. “What are you then?”
She paused for a second, looked at me and and said: “I’m your Barnabas.”
“My Barnabas?” I said, wondering where in the world that came from. “I never had a Barnabas before. Hmm.” A few months before she told me she had a rhinoceros and a hippopotamus in her little pink backpack - real ones.
“Okay. Enough lessons for today,” I said. We went outside to roll over logs and look for salamanders in the woods.
Those scents, too, took me back to my own childhood.