The first things I think about, and remember so viscerally and physically, are the smells. Somehow, smells always seem to be directly connected to memories, don’t they?
In the springtime, the earth in the backyard garden plot, back behind the pool, had that fresh, fertile, loamy smell, especially after a spring rain that always made me itch to get out and plant something. My mother told me that I did, after all, have farming in my blood, as my grandfather tilled the earth and mom always liked her yard and flowers and vines. I suppose she was right, because the feel of the dirt running through my fingers and the smell of it just felt really good somehow.
Summer brought the fragrant white gardenia blooms on the shiny green plant right beside the back door, the old entrance to the back of the house before the wholesale renovation that moved it around to the back and added more glass and a big back porch that later expanded to an even bigger back deck, built to accommodate the big shade tree that dominated that part of the yard. That little plant put out more perfume per bloom than any other we ever had. One of the particularly bad winter storms did a number on it, and it never fully recovered, but it gave great olfactory joy for many summers.
Summer also brought lawn mowing, and with it the fragrant smell of fresh-cut grass, hearkening back all the way to my boyhood. The fragrant vines, the pungent chlorine of the backyard swimming pool, all smells that made the season what it was.
Fall and winter were no different. Outside, deadening trees and turning leaves had their own smells, and smoke from chimneys carried the acrid smells of families moving indoors to huddle against the cool and pretend that we all “needed” to be by the fire, though that was hardly ever imperative in the south. The best smells of the latter year, the absolutely best smells of all, were the ones around the holidays. The candles, the smell of roasting turkeys and puddings and rolls and cakes and spices and the smell of cold air rushing into a warm kitchen as family with gift-laden arms piled in from outside, ready for another feast day.
The sights of that time were nice as well. Twinkling lights on the Christmas tree were always my favorite. The absolute best time of day after the tree was decorated was late, late at night, when the house was still and most everyone was already abed, when I could sit by the fire, drink in hand, and just bathe in the glow of the season.
The sight of children, little at first, floatties on chubby arms, splashing about in the pool, later so much older, with friends and parties and groups of kids and teens and adults gathered in sweaty knots about the pool, toasting with bottles of beer and sodas, eating hamburgers and talking about the events of the day.
The sounds of the house were as varied as the smells and the sights. Piano playing, by memory or off sheet music or simply banged out under tiny fists that figured out that noise, wonderful noise, came from these black and white things that one could bang on without end. The music from upstairs, passing through phases from Disney musicals and soundtracks from every kids movie that we ever bought and wore out on VCR tape to contemporary pop to rock to rap. Funny how kids will find things you’ve never heard of to listen to, but then will sneak on one of your old favorites from time to time, never thinking that you’ll hear them playing it. The drone of the television, the whining of the mixer, the beeping of the microwave and the harsh buzz of the dryer. The symphonic soundtrack of the life of a family in the house that they called home for almost two decades.
Tastes, oh my, the tastes. Watermelon and ice cream and fresh-baked cookies and chocolate and coffee, lots and lots of coffee, strong and black for some and brown and sweet as molasses for others, but coffee nonetheless. Pumpkin bread and casseroles and hot chili on cold days and beer. Wine at dinner and champagne to bring in the New Year. Sparkling apple cider for the little ones. Tastes of days and tastes of nights and holidays and birthdays and comfort food after 9-11. Sweet and tart and salty as tears. Toxic as jimson weed and bitter as quinine, the tastes left in the mouth when all was said and done. But before that, it was all warm and pleasant and easy on the tongue.
To live in the house was to feel it, the warm earth in the spring, the grass clippings in the summer, the leaves in the fall, the fire wood in the winter. The smooth edges of the island countertop and the warm fluffiness of the blankets and throws around the house were reassuring, familiar. The feel of the worn knob on the back door. The click of the glass door on the shower as it closed. The heat from the oven and the blast of cold from the freezer. The solid, heavy smoothness of teak in the dining room. The nubbiness of raw silk in frames in the living room.
Yes, it took five senses to live in the house and love it for two decades.
It has taken five senses to say goodbye.