Scent of a Memory

When I finally moved away from my parents’ house I still lived only a few miles away. I moved occasionally over the years but never more than a twenty minute drive or so from their house and the place I grew up.  A couple of years ago when I decided to make a bigger move, Mama clutched her breast at the travesty of my moving so far away. “It’s only two hours from Richmond to D.C. It’s not a big deal”, I tried to console her. To her though, I may as well have been taking part in efforts to colonize the moon. She couldn’t hide her distress when she asked “But won’t you get homesick?” I had never lived far from home maybe, but I had traveled to other countries, for years I went on annual week-long beach trips with old friends, and I’d had countless weekends away over the years. Homesick? Silly Mama, that’s not something to worry about. I’d never felt that way in the past and couldn’t see why I ever would. I made the move and homesickness was never a thought.

Until I smelled a cantaloupe.

While growing up, summer days always saw a cantaloupe in Mama’s kitchen. A huge bowl in the refrigerator was always full of a recently sliced melon and another would be waiting in the wings. There could be one in the large kitchen windowsill, maybe one on the floor by the stove, and probably one on the counter sometimes cut in half just waiting for Mama to return to the task. The smell of cantaloupe was always in the kitchen. After hot days riding bikes with cousins or building forts down in the pasture I looked forward to that bowl of cold, sliced cantaloupe that I knew would be waiting.

I would simply walk into the kitchen and smell cantaloupe.

These days I ride a bus to work each morning. The only smells are those of exhaust from passing traffic and bus fumes from the 4A as it picks me up, takes me a few miles away, and drops me off at a Metro station where I catch an equally smelly shuttle to cross the Potomac into Georgetown. One morning as the shuttle neared the university and stopped at a light, the greasy smell of the vehicle combined with the odor from asphalt pavers working on a side street. It wasn’t the best way to start a morning. As we sat on the shuttle waiting for the light to change the woman next to me began to rifle through her tote bag. She momentarily opened a plastic container and the aroma hit me. She had cantaloupe.

I felt a strange feeling come over me and for a minute I closed my eyes, unsure whether it might be the acrid odors of exhaust and asphalt that were finally getting to me. No, that wasn’t it. I was homesick. The smell of the shuttle, exhaust, bus fumes and asphalt disappeared. Instead, the smell of those few small chunks of cantaloupe took me back to Mama’s kitchen, building forts in the pasture among the blackberry bushes, and lazy summer days riding bikes with my cousins.

I had smelled a cantaloupe.

Stuart M. Perkins

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Scent of a Memory

  1. Wonderful story!! Such a summer smell around here. Did you ever put pepper on yours? My cousins did and I never understood it.

  2. Actually, my father does like pepper on his! But he also likes salt on his watermelon. Could be he just has a spice fetish.

  3. kissysmom

    I like mine just plain naked! Cantaloupe cannot be improved.

  4. Janet

    You made me homesick! And tell your Dad I like pepper on my cantaloupe occasionally, and salt on my watermelon!

  5. I know just how homesick those smells of home can make you feel. My mama just sent me a box of Georgia peaches. I opened it up and was instantly back in my hometown sitting on the back stoop with a fresh, ripe peach, juice running down my chin in the heat of summer afternoon. A long drink from the hose and a good wash sent me back to my bike to play. Thanks for the memories and a wonderful post. Thanks for stopping by my blog also.

  6. Scent memories are powerful! Vanilla is one of mine. I remember going to the Farmers’ Market with my grandmother – the first time she picked up a vanilla bean and snapped it. That lovely soft sweet scent and the flavor I adore! Thanks for this reminder!

  7. andrewsercombe

    I love your stories, Stuart. I’ve done some on “The Kind Stranger” you might like to read. (Just Google it!) http://www.andrewonline.net

    PS: I’m a believer too and did LOTS of church!

  8. Sharing memories can be joyful or sad, but it’s good to have the memories to share. I eat my tomatoes like I eat apples because I used to pick tomatoes from Grandma’s garden; sit on the back porch and eat until full. I love when the juice dribbles down my chin because I’m 7 again and at the start of Life’s adventure. Thanks for stopping by my blog and liking it.

  9. I’ve just read this story, and ‘A Pew for You’. You have a great gift for storytelling!

  10. rubble2bubble

    There’s a pain from my heart to my throat. You’ve hit the nerve of…loss. The “never able to go back…” feeling. At this point in my life, I know it isn’t a feeling that brings sadness as much as It’s a feeling to…treasure. Heaven IS the hug that holds me…firmly.

  11. Yes, cantaloupe. I remember. 🙂

  12. memory is such a sweet torture, ain’t it?

  13. mgsunshine

    I used to love cantaloupe so much. But I avoid it now because it seems like I always end up choosing the blades ones from the produce section.

  14. What a lovely story. A whiff of something cooking or the enticing smell of ripe mangoes and mellons in the fruit shops in summer bring on waves of childhood nostalgia

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