It is my sense of smell that has the fastest access to my past. It is my nose that most tightly holds my memories of summers spent with my grandparents. Certain aromas are heavy-laden with recollections of family and feasts and slow-paced days passed indulging in the beach. The fragrances of Grenada are greatly nostalgic for me.
Grandma smelled of many things. Mostly she smelled like the kitchen and whatever she was cooking—sweet, spicy, or succulent. On Sundays she smelled of English soap and the scented powder she applied with a puff. I thought this to be very fancy compared to my simple container of Johnson’s & Johnson’s powder at home. I thought it regal.
Granddad smelled like power and respect with a hint of shaving cream or his daily dose of evening “medicine”—some sort of spirit.
Grandma smelled of candies and cakes and curries. She smelled of light perspiration and deep hugs. She smelled of longsuffering and faithful love. She smelled of secrets, loyalty, and the blood of an oft-bitten tongue.
Granddad smelled of weekly drives to the country for honey on the comb, roti skins, and fresh-from the-source spring water. He smelled of yearly trips to England that grandma never ever (not even once) went on with him. From these trips he came back smelling of a scent I couldn’t identify at the time—a scent I was too young to discern. Now I know. Granddad smelled of infidelity and the children it engendered.
Grandma smelled like laundry washed and hung in the Caribbean sun to dry. She smelled of the money she made and hid under the mat in the bathroom (showing me where, but never telling me why). Money she literally earned craftily—making delicious things out of sugar and beautiful things out of yarn. She’d crochet curtains, tablecloths and decorative doilies for chairs, end tables, and couches. And she’d smell like the starch she’d submerge her crocheted hats in so they could attain a stiffer shape as the sun hardened them.
Granddad smelled like the car he named “Triumph” and kept spotless until he replaced it with a newer, younger model.
Grandma smelled like a woman who willingly cooked and served all day. She smelled like stewed meat, fried fish, and fresh bread. She smelled like of loving wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. She smelled of daily walks to the market up and down a preposterously steep hill.
Granddad smelled strict and serious with strangers, but full of jokes with a drink in his hand and among friends. He smelled of all the sweets he defiantly tried to eat in secret—even after his doctor told him no more. Then granddad smelled of cancer for a few years and, ultimately, a coffin.
Now grandma smells alone. She still smells sweet and full of love and an easy willingness to laugh, but she also smells like putting on a brave face to hide pain and loneliness. She smells of ointments and the stroke that’s left her with a life lived in bed. And so she also smells of faith and fatigue and a readiness for death.