Monday, April 24, 2006
What's That Smell?
Now that it’s getting into the 2nd week since we’ve been back from Texas, I know this blog is past due. The truth is, I neglected to keep a journal of the days’ happenings so I really don’t have the head start a written record would have provided. Nonetheless, as I think about our trip, the things that I recall the most are the smells. Being a perfume addict (I had at one time 30+ fragrances in my collection, not including body sprays or bath splashes) I remember scents easily, and aromas trigger my memory in ways that sometimes even photographs do not.
It was moderately early when we all grabbed a quick breakfast of fresh toasted bread and loaded up into our van to take the girls to our friends’ house. The sun was already out and we could hear the muffled highway traffic through the trees and houses in our community. The air was crisp and laden with the frosty smell of chilled wet grass and leaves. More than our natural surroundings, though, our excitement and anticipation permeated the atmosphere.
After dropping the girls off we arrived at the hotel early enough to enjoy a steaming cup of aromatic coffee courtesy of the hotel where we were to catch our shuttle to the airport. A lady sitting on the other side of a large coffee table in the lobby noticed Ulie and started chatting with us right away. There is just something about babies that invites complete strangers into your world to talk about their own children, their hopes and dreams, and their lives. She shared how she wanted to live in the quaint little island of Friday Harbor but was taking care of her aging parents. Having been to the island I could easily recall the salty air and musty smell of soil that never really gets dry at all. She talked about a couple who wanted to be buried on the island and while the wife was battling cancer they would pack a picnic and dine al fresco where their bodies would eventually be laid to rest. As she shared how she had also purchased her own burial plot there I could almost smell the freshly turned peat and crushed rose petals from graveside services I had attended in the past.
Our shuttle had arrived and we stood in line amid travelers taking their last carcinogenic puffs from their camels. Hating the smell I hoped none of it would linger on my clothes too long. We boarded the shuttle and when I snuggled in close to Bill his cologne cleared the smoke out of my nostrils. I sniffed in his Drakkar deeply and smelled it again, albeit mingled with parfum de bebe, when I cuddled Ulie close to my face. There wasn’t anything exceptional to note about checking in baggage and boarding the plane. Just the expected shuffle of bodies and carry-ons and the blast of jet fuel fumes seeping through the cracks in the walkway to the aircraft. We learned quickly that the lady that shared our row of seats is a Christian and we talked at length about Bible studies and churches. A few hours into the flight the unexpected happened: the flight attendant handed her a large envelope and a small jewelry box. Having caught the writing on the envelope it said “Happy Anniversary” She carefully opened the envelope and I could see that she was savoring every perfectly penned line knowing that, although Hallmark prints quality cards, the thoughts and feelings were coming from her husband’s heart. She carefully wiped at moist eyes then opened the jewel box to find a beautiful white gold heart pendant encrusted with diamonds. I asked how many years and she responded like a young bride, “We’ve been married 18 years but we’ve known each other for 22 years.” I asked where her husband was and she pointed to where he was sitting. Then I commented that she was showing a great deal more restraint than I would and she giggled. Her floral perfume floated along the aisle as she got up from her seat, reached into her own carry-on, found a large envelope and handed it to him. The husband then got up from his seat and they both made their way to the back of the plane to be more private. Just moments later the same flight attendant brought two champagne flutes and two champagne bottles to their little anniversary celebration 32,000 feet above the ground. I am sure they were flying much higher than that.
Later, as a passing comment, we talked about roses, which I love the most of all flowers, and she hinted that perhaps I could help revive her roses. It would be nice to do since I am anxious to see what her particular choices would smell like once they are in bloom. Sweet and spicy or fruity and flowery. She handed us an unopened bottle of champagne and said it was for our own little getaway. We exchanged addresses and once the plane had landed in Dallas we went our separate ways.
“Texas stinks!” I blurted out to Bill as we walked through the airport terminal. “Does Texas always smell like this?” He assured me that it did and I wasn’t imagining it. In trying to describe it, I would have to say it smelled a mixture of old clothes, dusty ranches, muddy ponds, and overcooked peppers. There is history in Texas to be sure so it didn’t surprise me that it would pervade the air around us. Before we boarded another plane to Austin we met a couple who were also planning to attend the same conference that Bill was attending. In a matter of minutes Julie and I discovered our shared faith in God and since she wasn’t actually part of the conference either we exchanged the names of our respective hotels and determined to meet up one of the days.
Once inside our hotel we were greeted by a complimentary snack of a small package of Oreo cookies and a bottle of water. Crisp white damask linens graced the bed and a supple leather chair stood ready at the desk for any writing we intended to do. It smelled clean, perfect, and restful. Amid airing out our freshly laundered clothing, taking our showers, and enjoying our room service meals it began to smell like our room. Our home away from home. I like that about staying at a hotel longer than just one night, in this case three nights. The next day Bill and I walked to a restaurant for lunch. The air was hot and dry and the air was thick with the odor of sun-baked pavement and cement sidewalks. The buildings looked old and I wondered what stories they would tell of this city. Once back inside our hotel, Bill having returned to his sessions at the conference, I called Julie and we arranged to meet the following day.
Julie and her husband were staying at the historic Driskill hotel, a place where state politics were discussed among the politicians themselves. A section of the hotel was undergoing some work so occasionally the smell of broken plaster and sawdust would find its way into the lobby where a cleaning lady was diligently polishing the curved dark stone pillars with a citrus-scented solution. Rich Victorian carpeting accented the deep velvet and oiled leather furnished seating area where I waited for my companion for the day. Again I realized how an adorable baby can melt even the most guarded and reserved of Texas gentry, this time a distinctly southern Belle who told me in a soft melodic drawl, “What a sweet baby!” We chatted briefly about her son being a Governor’s page for a day before she left to meet her husband. Julie showed up shortly thereafter and we took a walk to a Starbucks. She and her husband live near Seattle so it was a natural choice for us to sit and talk among other sippers enjoying their aromatic beverages before we walked to the capitol building. The streets were alive with restaurant smells and freshly blooming flowers as we blended with other pedestrians walking to their various destinations. As for Julie and I we simply enjoyed each other’s company far from home and sharing our lives if only for a day. Even though we talked about the Alamo, and some American history, our fellowship was sweet and fragrant with the love of our Lord who graciously arranged for us to meet and fellowship with each other.
That evening as I shared the day’s events with Bill I realized that God had breathed a fresh sweet life into me and into our marriage. The next day Bill, Ulie, and I walked back to the capitol building to take a few pictures and talk about going home. I love seeing Bill in places where his knowledge of history is met with the exact locations where history unfolded. He loves seeing me in new territory where I gather and collect images and impressions like artifacts to use in my writing or my art. And before we boarded the plane to go home I made sure to inhale the bouquet of our experience deeply.
Posted by Bill & Glory at 1:17 PM