Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Smell Memory: Burnt Toast and Musty Old Farm Houses

Patience's Hazel Art
(Hazel Grayson at 104 years old - 2004)
Smell Memory.  What is yours like?  Mine is haunting in the most beautiful way.

I walked into my kitchen just now to wash my breakfast dishes and change a load of laundry.  I was pondering if there is any gardening that I can go outside to do this beautiful summer day.  Lost in a mental list of productivity options, I was about three feet from the sink when a smell memory hit me and hit me hard.  I suddenly walked into a cloud of what my Grandma Grayson's kitchen used to smell like - a combination of old musty farm house and burnt toast.  I was taken.  I stopped abruptly, doubting what I was smelling.  Grabbing a hold of the counter as though I were going to lose my balance from surprise, I inhaled deeply as the smell memory grew stronger.  Eyes closed, the vision of my Grandmother became prominent standing in the kitchen of her old farm house (not the newly built modern house that my Grandfather gifted her in her late 80's).  Her cotton dress and apron, bowed legs from childhood illness, standing at the kitchen sink laughing as she washed the breakfast dishes.  I opened my eyes for a brief moment to set my own breakfast dishes down in my sink.  The smell still overwhelmingly present, I strong cry took me over.  I closed my eyes and deeply inhaled again as the smell memory faded.

I don't know if my own kitchen tends to smell like old musty farm house.  It is very possible that is smells like burnt toast - a lifelong way of living that I need to re-address very soon.  I won't linger too long as to why this happened, but I am thankful for it.

We can easily look at a photo and say, "Oh yeah!  I remember that!"  Or, we can recollect with a friend or a relative about a shared memory and our own personal version of the story.  We can touch a doll or a blanket or just about anything and feel the sensory touch of something that has always felt that way.  But smell is more elusive.  Yes, I can say, "This peach pie tastes just like Grandma used to make!"  The pie could even smell the same.  But to suddenly be hit with a smell that is unlikely to exist in your present environment...a smell that is a combination of elements from a time past...well that is something else altogether.

Has this happened to you?

My mother used to have this wooden cabinet with glass doors that she kept as a sort of shrine to my brother who passed in his teens.  It held his favorite Dallas Cowboys t-shirt, his left-handed baseball mitt, trophies, a picture of him in little league, candles and more.  If you opened the cabinet, you would be overwhelmed at the intimate smell of the items inside, most notably the candles.  But every once in a blue moon, on a different floor of the house or in a far away room, that combination of smells would waft under your nose.  Gripping you, stopping you in yours tracks, forcing you to close your eyes and wonder.  These smells were mysteriously free of their entombed moment in time - back in 1982.

Smells from my Grandma Hazel Grayson have haunted me before.  In fact, I cannot think of any smells relative to others that have ever grabbed me like that.  Mediums would tell you that it represents that individual's spirit is visiting you at that exact moment in time and that it is "with you", watching over you and protecting you.  Whereas, neuroscientists would indicate that this is olfactory memory, where one's amygdala specifically deals with smell memory.  

Whatever the case may be, I wonder why it doesn't happen for me with smells from anyone else.  Why only Hazel?  Why not my brother's smells to me like they do to my mother?  It both examples, the smell is not negative but, it seems, a warm reminder of a loved one passed.  For me specifically, a time and a place, an age and an environment - a person who greatly nurtured me.  

While it brought me tears, my memory of Grandma Hazel this morning warmed me.  It gave me her being again if only for a brief moment.  It brought me her love and her part in my daily morning traditions.  I was happy to see her again from my 7-year-old height, peering into the kitchen while standing in the living room entry.  With the morning sun shining in above her kitchen sink, she was everything I remembered and more.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Letter to You

A letter to those who I do not know, have never met or haven't seen in years, distant relatives, friends of friends, who know nothing of how I was raised or what I was forced to endure while under the guardianship of my father:

I know you mean well.  And I appreciate your efforts.  I understand your calls, your inbox messages, your prayers, your letters, your requests, your tear-filled pleas.  Though, what you may find interesting is that not one person in my immediate family has asked the same of me that you have asked.  This is because they were there.  This is because they know.  

I'll be frank.  My father is not a good man.  He is good at things that he does, but the two are not the same.  A lot of people would say that all parents do the best they can with what they have or what they know.  I disagree.  While this may be true for most, there are some people who have good tools at their immediate disposal but who actively choose not to use them.  There are some people who choose chaos, tyranny and deception instead.

My parents lost their first son during his birth.  My parents lost their second son to suicide when he was almost 16 years old.  My parents weren't planning on having me, but here I am.  My parents divorced when I was almost 10 years old.  That my brother and I were left to survive the brutal and unforgiving upbringing provided by my father while my mother escaped for her own survival to a far away state is tragic.  My brother did not survive and I narrowly escaped at age 18, just three short days after high school graduation.

In short, I have done the work and have come through the tyranny to the best of my own ability.  For the remainder of my life, my upbringing will effect me in ways I am not even capable of identifying.  I am now at peace with this.  In fact, I've done a great deal of work to get to this place.  So has my  loving mother.  My father has not.  My father refuses to do any work, to accept any responsibility.

I invited him to join in on my work.  Sheepishly, he joined two sessions.  I asked him to continue the work on his own so that we could heal together and form a new bond.  He refused.  Beyond refusing, he defamed me to my family and my childhood community.  To this very day, he continues to defame me and accept zero responsibility.  I asked him again to do the work.  And again, he refused.  I told him that if he did the work I would know.  That our family would convey it without prompting.  That it would become evident in everything that he did.  He refused.  I told him that if he didn't do the work, I would be forced to sever ties with him.  He refused.

I had to return cards and letters.  I had to block phone calls.  I had to inform those close to me of the tragedies that had led me to this labored decision.  I have asked that those around me respect this decision - that unless they have experienced what I had that they could not understand.  Most have respected this.  And when pressed, I explain, and they then understand.

Right now, there are distant cousins and long lost friends of his and childhood friends of mine who still live in that community who expect that I am sympathetic to a dying man.  And I am.  To a fault, I am a highly compassionate human.  But that does not require me to open myself up to the grievances of a man who would continue to harm me to his dying day.  A few years ago, I said goodbye to the idealistic version of him that he never came close to being.  And since that moment, I have never experienced a greater sense of peace.  To consider letting him back in simply because he is ill is not an option.  I've said everything I ever needed to say to him and he actively refused to listen.  I was forced to say goodbye.  

At this point, I want nothing from him but for him to consider the great harm he has inflicted in the choices that he has made across his vast lifetime, to acknowledge there is a problem, then to let it go and move forward - to forgive himself.  Yet, he continues to refuse.

For my family and friends who continue to quietly support me in this decision, I thank you.  And for those who cannot imagine the horrors I've personally experienced that have contributed to my decision, I ask you to step outside of your personal belief and respect my personal distance from this man.  I wish no harm to come his way.  His way is the reckoning of his own creation.  

While I cannot change the past, and while what's lost is lost, I can attempt to successfully clear the future of my own reckoning.  And, that future is beautifully peaceful.  

I wish you each all the best.  I pray that your father and your mother (like my mother) loved you unconditionally, and that they did the best they could with what was provided to them - that they chose the best tools.  I pray that you love your own children and grandchildren in that same spirit.  I mean this.  

Most sincerely,