The Garden of Earthly Delights
(This is a repost of something I wrote last year... I was thinking about a gardenia post and then remembered I'd written one. So here it is, again.)
It's gardenia blooming time in my yard. I have a row of "Daisy" gardenias, which are not the beautiful and more gardenia-looking "August Beauty." The "Daisy" as you can see from the photo, has a much simpler flower but each bush is just loaded with blooms - so many that they almost completely cover the tiny leaves of the bush. And the fragrance is fabulous. Particularly at night, the whole neighborhood is perfumed by my Daisy gardenias. I know that sometimes people stop and smell them as they walk their dogs.
Smells are potent. Sometimes one can get a headache from certain smells. Pregnant women can feel nauseated from smells. (Non-pregnant people can too, of course.) I can't imagine what it might be like to work on the garbage collection truck.
Smells also take one back to another time and place. Once when I was driving along a back road in Florida with the roof and windows open and came up behind a truck hauling pine logs from the woods to a sawmill. My father used to own a sawmill and the smell emanating from the logs on that truck reminded me of things I hadn't thought of in thirty or forty years. The old bark burner (this was back when the bark was burned instead of shredded into pine bark mulch) that looked to me like a giant saltshaker; the sound of the train car wheels whining on the rails as the train carried off loads of boards (and later bark). The sweet smell of the particular type of pink Gojo soap that would get the grease and pinesap off one's hands in the office bathroom. The drink machine loaded with those little bottles of Coke for a nickel and a dime and then you had to get the cap off with the bottle opener. All of these came flooding into my consciousness as I drove behind that truck.
I often wonder about memories - how it is that we can remember some things and forget others completely, how it is that things one has seemingly forgotten suddenly come up out of nowhere at a simple trigger like a smell or a taste or a song or a photograph. I'm fascinated by the filing system we must have in our brains that stores things away and the retrieval system that works in several different ways. Some things can be retrieved through thinking for a few seconds; some things pop up unbidden; some things pop up bidden by a trigger; and some things just seem to take forever - those things on the tips of our tongues that won't come until it's too late. Like our next door neighbor's name. The retrieval process itself is fascinating as well. And irritating; sometimes I wonder, am I already that old? Because I can't remember things I'm trying to remember...
Once I, along with some other folks, was working with some older folks at a nursing home and we would gather them for a church service on Wednesday evenings and even though many of them didn't participate in much of anything - indeed, some of them didn't seem to be very sure of where they were - once we started singing hymns, they sang right along even if they normally didn't talk to people. I loved that. I loved how they went to a place in their minds that freed them from whatever else was going on with them and how the words just came back and came out, in various fashions and maybe not all of them, but they recognized something, they connected with something and so they were connected with us.
So I don't know what my gardenias conjure up for people (or their dogs) but I hope that their memories are as sweet as the blooms themselves.