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When I was a little girl,
I would stand on my father’s feet;
he would dance me around the kitchen and sing,
we all live in a yellow submarine.

When my brother was a little boy,
we would all go swimming together.
John would jump into the deep water
from the top of my father’s shoulders.
John would jump into the water over and over.
My father would catch him again and again.

When my mother least expected it,
my father would sneak up behind her
and wrap her in a tight bear hug.
Someone took a picture of the embrace;
the photo hung on the wall of our house
for many years.

These are the memories we cling to
as we navigate this new world without
our Frank. Our daddy. Our papa.
Some memories will make us laugh,
others will make us cry
but all will do the job of
keeping him alive.

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Most Important Day | – BWright Group, Boutique Media & PR Firm, Richmond, VA

Check out my new gig – contributing writer for the BWright group’s Richmond Mixx page.

 

 

Most Important Day | – BWright Group, Boutique Media & PR Firm, Richmond, VA.

And Breathe.

My puppy smells like corn chips. I inhale her sweet little scent just like I inhale the lavender scent of the sheets at my mom’s house – deeply and with relish.  When Ethan sweats, he smells like vinegar. It’s a sharp, acrid scent that does not suit him at all.  He usually smells like soccer fields and forests. Laura smells like my perfume. When I get ready for the day, she comes in to watch me. She asks for either sparkly eyes or pink cheeks and for a spritz of whatever perfume I am wearing that day. My cats sometimes smell like their litter boxes. I send them away to clean themselves up when they track that scent near me. Then I go clean their litter boxes.

Like so many people, I have a strong connection to scents.  I smell new tires whenever I go to a dentist’s office because the first time I got gassed before having a tooth pulled, the mask smelled like new tires. It made me sick. 24 years later, it still does. When my kids are congested, I can smell the mucous on their breath. It smells like sick – green and dank.  I can still smell the Polo cologne of my high school boyfriend.  Most likely because a bottle of his cologne shattered in my backpack after he haphazardly lobbed it next to his backpack, but it hit the wall instead. I held it at arm’s length and carried it to my locker where I stashed it before running down the hall to homeroom. The entire hallway of our high school smelled like Polo for a couple of weeks. Some things stick with you.

My ex-mother-in-law was an empty woman. She had so many cavities of sadness within her, so she filled her home with trinkets, baubles, sticks, bowls, anything antique. No tchotchkes, though. She was never quite sure what a tchotchke was, nor did she care to learn about them. When she couldn’t find any more nooks and corners inside her home to fill, she filled the air with scent – apples and cinnamon. There was potpourri, candles, cinnamon sticks, dried apples, small “cinnamon brooms,” faux apple pies that smelled “like the real thing!” as she would proudly exclaim. It was sickly sweet in there. I could smell the pie-filling inside of the 140-year old Victorian house from the front porch.  And just like the stuff carefully placed in the crevices and on shelves, the scent was an apt distraction.

Before my parents sold the home where I lived as a child, the front and the upstairs hallways smelled like sweet peaches.  Potpourri. Mom liked dabbles of scent here and there. But the peach potpourri stands out the most. Now that they live at the beach, the house smells salty, briny, and a little like the many pine trees in the yard. It’s a natural scent that I savor when I am there. Mom has gotten away from the potpourri. Sometimes when she cooks fish, she’ll light a delicately scented lemon candle to cleanse the air. The heaviest scents are in the bathroom. In the past couple of years, since receiving a bottle as a wedding favor, mom has begun buying Bath and Body Works liquid hand soaps. Everybody knows when you washed your hands, and, perhaps most importantly, when you didn’t, once you enter a room after leaving the bathroom. The dense scent of the soap lingers like little, puffy clouds around your hands. When I first told her about, and when she later visited, my ex-mother-in-law’s house, mom began consciously avoiding cinnamon and apple scents.

My own house smells like puppy pee. Not everywhere. And not all the time. And maybe I’m the only one who can smell it (or so I’ve been accused) because of the many puddles of pee I’ve cleaned since puppy Penny Lane arrived. My dear friend, Vector,* gave me two nature-inspired scented candles. One is “Sun-Kissed Leaves” and the other is “Cool Serenity (Relaxing Moments).” He was buying candles for his house, thought of me, and bought extra. Of course, this furthered my conviction that my house smells like puppy pee. He insists it doesn’t. I always forget to light the candles. He lights them when he is here.

I splurged on a rather expensive reed diffuser for my writing desk this summer.  My favorite home scent is fresh fig. I have a candle (that I always forget to light), oils (that I forget to put in the diffuser or forget to light the tea light to warm the oil and release the scent) and a spray (that I can’t find) in varieties of fig scents. Given my history, and my desire to have a figgy-scented home, I went the path that requires the least memory, and I purchased the pricey diffuser. When I brought it home, I simply pulled the stopper from the curvy bottle, dipped the reeds in the amber-colored oil, flipped them over, and was gifted with scent. Continual, fresh, musky, figgy scent.   My room is not filled with the scent, however. It stays on my desk. I love this most about my delicate reed diffuser. I am seduced to sit, relax, and breathe. Then I begin to write. Despite the cyclone on my desk – the papers from work, school, my children’s schools; bills; the empty, and half empty, water bottles; the mints; the highlighters; the four Sticky Notes pads; the binders; the checkbooks; the makeup; and my hat. Despite the chaos, I breathe.

 

*Not his real name.

Kitchens

I don’t remember the smells of my mother’s kitchen. When I put myself back to childhood, I smell my grandmother’s kitchen. Grandma and grandpa lived in a second-floor apartment in Clifton, NJ. I would sit in the back of the car – ever-changing makes and models – and tick off the familiar landmarks along the one-hour drive to their apartment. The Parkway bridges that gave us a peek at the drive-in movie screen, the Woodbridge sign by the exit that led to the mall, the sign for Rutgers, the factories, Newark airport, the abandoned brick building in Linden, the train station, the golf course, the sign for the Clifton exit, the Rowe Manse Emporium, the Allwood bakery,  then a left turn, a right turn, and finally, the small entrance to the blacktop parking lot on the right.

The apartments in the neighborhood were brick buildings meant to look like semi-detached homes. There were small, covered porches and two green doors per unit. Beside each door, the black buzzer buttons were stacked on top of each other and displayed the names of the occupants.  Venditti was the top one. The bottom buzzer never had a name although people lived there. My father would press the buzzer with his thumb, yell, “anybody home?” and in reply  my grandmother would shout, “Yeah? Come in!” My brother and I would push open the door and run up the narrow staircase, carpeted sickly grey-green, into their living room. As we ascended, the deep, rich scent of crushed tomatoes, garlic, and oregano would wrap around me.  My brother went straight for the spare bedroom where the toys were kept, seemingly unaffected by the Italian incense.

At the stove would be grandpa. He was the real chef in this operation. He stood, patiently, over the simmering sauces and stirred them with a wooden spoon. Always a wooden spoon. Grandma would be sitting at the white-topped formica table, prodding pizza dough into a square pan with her fingertips. Grandma’s pizzas were square, served when we arrived, and possessed a flavor and texture that has yet to be duplicated – chewy, crunchy, tangy, creamy. An impossible combination. The kitchen was small and hot. A metal fan would spin furiously in the kitchen window to no effect. Both my grandparents had kitchen towels draped over a shoulder – my mother would, decades later, recall the towels being called mappines. There were never less than three pots of varying sizes simmering on the burners – gas burners, the likes of which would fascinate me well into my twenties until I rented my first apartment that had gas burners. I was too short to see into the tall pots, so grandpa would lift me and let me lean my face into the steam and breathe deep my heritage.

Memories of my mother’s kitchen are different. There isn’t the rich texture of  hot, garlicky air. Instead, I recall, most vividly, my great aunts in my mother’s kitchen. Delia and Teresa, my grandfather’s sisters, fascinated me. They were quirky and eccentric. They cooked dandelions with garlic, bitter and delicious. Aunt Delia drank beer. Aunt Teresa wore amazing, large, sparkly rings. Her hair was shockingly white and curled up and around her head like soft cotton candy; Delia’s, cut into a simple pixie cut, was deep grey. They took lots of vitamins. They drove. All the way from New York. To suburban Sayreville, New Jersey almost weekly. I think they were the ones who gave me an apricot tree when I made my First Holy Communion. They smelled funny – later I’d learn that piquant scent is often found in small health food stores, herbaceous and pungent. And, best of all, they argued. They argued with each other and with my grandmother. Everyone else was wise to stay away from the fighting. They sat around the thick, round, butcher-block kitchen table and argued in the way the elderly often argue – over memories of events that didn’t quite happen or people who haven’t yet died.  Teresa’s voice was gravelly and strained at times, Delia’s voice was nasally. Grandma had a strong voice, heavy with New York and Italian inflections. She said, “huddy-call” when she couldn’t remember someone’s name.

I didn’t see Aunt Teresa when she died. Aunt Delia, on her death bed, cancer tumors having caused her head to become misshapen, said to me, “I wish you a happy life, Annmarie.”  The rooms of my home are decorated with Aunt Teresa’s charcoal drawings. She was a talented artist. When I pass through my dining room, I often run my fingers along the spines of the books I inherited from them – D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and The Rainbow, Les MiserablesThe Teachings of Confucius, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Thoreau’s Walden. They were ahead of their time – artists, flappers, visionaries.

My mother is a wonderful cook. I still request her hand-made manicotti for my birthday dinner every year. Mom swirls the delicate batter for the manicotti crepes in a small cast iron pan. When they have reached the ideal firmness, she lifts them out and places them on individual sheets of wax paper with the precision of a surgeon. Her sauce for the manicotti is as light as the crepes. A gentle dressing of simmered crushed tomato and fresh parsley. Mom’s trademark is her fresh parsley. But her food had a lot of competition back then. Grandma’s pizza and my Great Aunt’s dandelions stole the show. And mom was more fortunate than my grandparents – her kitchen was large. It didn’t trap scents or heat the way a small kitchen does. Yet, this past winter, I walked into my mom’s newest kitchen – not the one of my childhood, but the one of their retirement, and swirling around me in a loving embrace, was the italian incense of my grandmother’s kitchen.

xo,
~AJC

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