I know better than to smell a Granny Smith apple in public.
To me, they are not just apples, but little green bombs of emotion. One strong whiff sends sensations of memories careening through the corridors of my brain, connecting me directly to a fall afternoon sitting with my Grandma Bessie at her kitchen table, her paring knife in her one hand, a Granny Smith in the other.
She cuts the apple down the middle. With one turn of the knife, she scoops out the core and then hands that half to me. I breathe in the apple, and see her smiling face, and remember how solid I felt sitting there across from her.
Whenever I smell a Granny Smith, I remember how much I loved her and how much I miss her and, depending on the day, I can be a mess in about two seconds. I don’t take any chances in public. I still buy the apples, but I judge them on sight alone and hold them at arm’s length in the store, waiting until I get home to take one, breathe in its scent and let the emotions come.
Smells are like that, aren’t they? They have the ability to connect so immediately to a scene, a feeling, a story. They are so individualized. While we all experience this connection, it is rare that we share the same reaction. To some, the smell of vinegar means a mother’s angry cleaning rampage, to others is means standing beside a favorite aunt at pickling time, to another it smells like pastel colors, like Easter.
I was out of the country when my father died and so I did not attend his funeral. I cried when I heard the news, but I don’t think I grieved. About a year after his passing, I realized I did not have any material item of his and I asked my mother to send me something. She sent me one of his old hats. Without thinking, I opened the package when it came and put the hat directly to my nose. The sensation nearly knocked me to the ground. That was him. That was his distinct scent. It was then I was able to truly grieve.
As a farm kid, I was able to get my driver’s license at that age fourteen. The law was that I could only use it only for farm errands. After a few weeks of driving with him, I begged my dad to let me go into town by myself to get some feed. He said yes.
Going to town I was too nervous to feel anything, but coming home, I felt more confident. I rolled down the window, felt that wind, and the wheels beneath me, and smiled at the road ahead.
The bag of feed bounced gently in the back seat, sending puffs of the scent that would forever connect me to that sunny day and that feeling of freedom.
A city girl now, I am not around feed very often, but whenever I go to Costco and see bags of feed I have the irresistible urge to throw myself atop them.
Just one deep breath and forty-one years disappear.
One breath and it’s all there—the car, the wind, the road. I am fourteen again and feel like I can fly.