I believe that memories can be carried with golden leaves on a gust of crisp, autumn wind; in the spicy scent that lingers after the embrace of a loved one; in the still and sacred air of a sanctuary, sunlit stained glass pooling on the dark, once-polished pews. The smell of woodsmoke cutting easily through a thin, wintery evening instantly returns me home to the rural hills of western Massachusetts, just as the rubber and exhaust that scratches the back of my throat will remind me of these six years in Boston. Summer will always be the fuzzy sweetness of a peach as I nestle my nose into the dimple left where it was plucked from the tree, or the tangy-salty smell of the Cape Cod Bay. A steaming mug of peppermint tea puts me at ease before I even take a sip, and the familiar mustiness of libraries and academia remains the same, no matter where I choose to study.
And just a hint of the too-sweet fragrance of day lilies and I am twelve years old again, shell-shocked and small, at my mother’s funeral. Even after she died, she remained in the soft, rust-colored sweater she had worn last, in the bouquet of the lotion she used everyday, in the cedar chips she spread over her garden to prevent weeds. Until one day I looked for her in the linen closet, in her sewing room, in the aged smell of her well-worn piano books, and she had gone. She left gradually, first from our dinner, as my father took over the cooking; then from the house as we brought in new scents, new experiences on our clothes and in our lives; and finally from her closet, the tangible things that had been closest to her in life. There are times when I am reminded of nights she leaned over to tuck me in and I breathed in the comforting combination of dinner and winter and lilacs and…my mom. I catch some similar presence in the air and I look around, searching, before the scent settles and is gone.
Each place and person in my life owns a distinctive scent, an identity that lingers even after they are gone. Places that become familiar in the perfume of grass in the sun, the change of the seasons, the vibrations of a room. People that smell of soap and sunshine and houses where I grew up. I recognize them and, with a single breath, am carried back to them. And that familiarity is like coming home.
I believe that memories can be breathed in. That, with a deep intake, they can fill the lungs, course through the body. Pulse with each beat of the heart.