I stumbled upon a phenomena today. I think this experience is one that is relatively universal but today it was nonetheless pungent when it occurred. Waiting for the cashier to return from lunch, I decided to take a stroll around the grounds of the private school where I substitute teach. It was a lovely day, a soft breeze tossed the tops of the palms and the sunshine was warm and buttery. Walking along the path I decided to take a detour into the school's kitchen garden; I have been admiring it from afar for a while now. A couple of Cambodian workers in wide brimmed hats were bowed over the plants, tending to the greens as carefully as if they were teaching the children playing a few yards away. I walked along the rows of bok choy, lettuce and eggplant, savoring the respite of the greenery after dweling in Phnom Penh's concrete for so long. Then a breeze slid gently my way and the scent of the whole garden braided itself around me. It came upon me in the middle of the garden and was an exact echo of my grandparent's garden back home. During frequent visits to my grandparents house, I grew up examining gnarled heirloom tomatoes and eating blackberries off the prickly vine on the narrow dirt alleys between towering corn stalks. The garden was as defining as our family tree, it held the family together over the dinner table and we watched it grow together. But alas that garden is gone. Pa died two years ago, Memaw moved to a nursing home and we sold the house. Until now I hadn't thought about that path of earth. How vacant it must be now. For so many years it birthed abundance, showered its bounty upon our whole family under Pa's watchful eye. Without Pa standing sentential, clad in a plaid shirt with his sling shot in one hand and trowel in the other, willing the vines to curl around each other and lower down glorious green beans, surely nothing will ever grow there again.
It's funny how smells do that- take you to a different world. Only the elated squeals of the children and the hum of the nearby highway anchored me to Asia. Every other fiber of my body had left and gone to Marietta, Georgia. The exact smell defies description; it is such a layering of things. First there is richness of wet soil, then the scent of fresh green things, growing things. And the honey of flowers woven though it is accompanied by the promising waft of fruits already ripe and round. It smells like a garden, for sure. But it has the sweetness of promise and the grit of growth in it. These things have smells, too, and they are unforgettable.
But after a moment, the breeze was gone. It's stillness left nothing in my nose but much in my memory.