Each spring when the air is rich with fragrance I am taken back to days of wonder when I ambled alone through my childhood neighborhood just outside
. As a youth I was fascinated by the natural world. Even in an environment of black-top and tar, nature still persisted. Detroit
It seemed every block I would walk down had at least one lilac bush in lavender, white or dark reddish-purple. Most of the mothers in the neighborhood with this shrub in their yard would have a mason jar spilling over with cut blooms on the kitchen table, perfuming the house.
On the way to school I remember one yard along
Martin Road had a lovely and strongly perfumed white flowering shrub, which as an adult I learned was a Viburnum ‘burkwoodii’. It flowered just before the lilacs and its scent was so strong in the mornings that I could enjoy it from several blocks away. I’m sure the elderly woman who lived there thought it strange that I, a little girl, would keep walking back and forth in front of her house, lifting my arms like a slow moving bird so I could breathe deeper the sweet scent of spring.
There are many scents that evoke childhood moments of delight. There was the heady odor from wasteland ponds coming back to life, and I knew that soon pollywogs would be skimming the edges of the murky water. There was the tickling smell of grass being mowed and the rich musty scent of blackcurrant bushes with yellow flowers that mimicked forsythias. With my head tipped back I would often follow my nose, deeply drawing in a scent as I tried to find its source.
Other smells stir my heart. The smell of fresh dill still carries me back to my grandmother’s kitchen and when we would pickle hot dilled green tomatoes. I’m always mindful to plant this herb in with my perennials. Each time I rub against it I think of my grandmother, after whom I am named, and who nurtured my love of gardening. She and I would also make hundreds of jars of jellies and jams for Christmas gifting. The aroma from black raspberries reducing for jelly would cling to my clothes for hours after we had finished waxing the jars.
There are two distinct fragrances that stir my memory of being loved. On my grandmother’s dresser there was always a round pink box of
Chantilly dusting powder. I have a small piece of cloth salvaged from her favorite sun dress, cut up for quilting, which rests in a memory box. That little piece of material still carries her delicate fragrance and lightens my heart each time I open the lid. The other memory is of her husband, my grandfather whom we called Buddy. He was a barrel-chested Irishman with an unflappable joy and love affair with life. He would nab and lift me by my waist, calling out “It’s the Margaret Rose!” as I squealed and giggled, being hugged close to his neck and deeply inhaling his Old Spice cologne.
Scent is a wondrous thing, a curious gift from God. He gave us many gifts through which to find joy and pleasure. The sense of smell is only one, but it was the first of my senses that I realized as a child brought me delight independent of the city around me. Scent cannot be dreamed or imagined. It startles us into the present and in the same moment can carry us adrift into memories of heaven on earth.