Lauren, whom you’ve met when she talked about the role of a fragrance evaluator, returns today with a testament to the strength of scent memories. The Honeysuckle Hour is also a tribute to her father.
I am walking, gliding along a paved path atop a river bank, staring coolly into the steamy, tangled vegetation, noting the various plants my parents have taught me to identify: tulip poplar, poison ivy, maple, dwarf maple, river birch… and honeysuckle. I smell it from thirty feet away, the sweetness that is sophisticated but light; indulgent but sparkling; nostalgic but still fresh. As I pause in my walk to breathe in the honeysuckle’s perfume, standing like a conductor before an orchestra, I realize: this scent will hurt me the most, if I am here and my father is gone.
One breath of honeysuckle amid these densely-packed leaves, and in a cloud of fragrance I land directly in my past: standing on a dock at the lake, my father meeting with a stranger, shaking hands over uncomfortably long, reedy boats gently bobbing on the waves. They’re called shells. I’m supposed to climb in one and try rowing – although each moving part is three times my height, and I’ve never commanded anything with a sliding seat. I’m nervous and scared, feeling every inch the awkward new teenager that I am; but mostly, I’m afraid to fail my dad.
Suddenly, I’m in the shell, alone on the water that gently laps my fiberglass boat as if to comfort me. Intuitively, I feel how to balance and move my body. A shapeless ribbon of honeysuckle perfume caresses my cheek, encouraging me. I’m smooth and the shell is silent across the water. I see my father, smiling from the dock, because I’m doing pretty well. He might be proud. And it feels delicious, the gliding of my muscles and all the parts of my body working in opposite directions, yet harmoniously in sync.
Years later, when I’m rowing on a murky, stagnant river, gliding past bursting leaves and hanging vines that make me feel I’ve entered a jungle, I feel the boundaries between me, the earth, and the graceful birds I approach without disruption, all fade. I feel my father in his own shell behind me. I sense that he is pacing himself to be with me and make me comfortable, going slowly though he is capable of much higher speeds. From somewhere unseen, the honeysuckle whispers in my ear that I am a part of the earth, the leaves, birds, water; and also, my father.
It’s a Saturday, so we go home to be with Mom and my little brother. The afternoon is lost in a blur of sunshine, green grass, yard work and our dog. Dinner is a special treat – grilled steak filets – and again I am surrounded by the smells of my father on the weekend. Freshly-minced garlic, nubs of newly-ground black pepper and the dark, vinegar tang of Worcestershire sauce rubbed into fresh meat. On weekdays, my father dabs Calvin Klein Obsession onto his neck. But on Saturdays, his cologne is a mix of Worcestershire sauce and smoky, grilled steak with an early-morning undercurrent of honeysuckle. What would you call that fragrance?
Tonight on my walk, the air smells of bitter green leaves, a murky river, and honeysuckle. It smells of my past, my family, my hometown. It makes me homesick with a pain I haven’t felt since childhood, even though I am fine right here, in this Honeysuckle Hour. And it takes me to the future, wherever I might be, because I know exactly how I will feel when I smell this perfume down the road. Those spidery, white and gold blossoms are deceivingly delicate – they hold the power to swiftly carve a hole of homesick longing into my chest, because they are the perfume of time spent with my father.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin
What scents remind you of your father?