Monthly Archives: November 2013

Just A Spritz

I had forgotten about the bottle of cologne I noticed on my dresser. It was pushed towards the back behind small piles of random clutter. I don’t usually wear cologne but when given this bottle as a gift I thought why not, I’ll use it. I promptly forgot about it until a few weeks ago when the bottle caught my eye. The box it came in said it was a fragrance full of alluring notes of bergamot, juniper, with a hint of cedar.

I never wanted to smell like a tree.

Still, I took off the top and sprayed a little in the air to sample the alluring notes. Once my coughing fit subsided, I recapped the bottle and decided it smelled nice after all. I would wear a little to work the next day.

Before leaving to catch the bus, I gave myself just a spritz of tree essence. It wasn’t bad. I boarded the bus and took my usual seat. With the bus nearly full by the time it gets to my stop, I’m normally left with the one empty seat beside a very old man. I assume he parks cars for work because he only wears uniforms with the logo of a well-known nearby parking garage. Every morning he reads the paper and although he usually looks up to give me a “good morning” nod, he never actually speaks.

He spoke the day I wore cologne.

I sat down and reveled in the hint of cedar wafting about. That’s when the old man looked up from his paper and began sniffing the air much the way a dog would if bacon were frying in the kitchen. Actually, much the way I would if bacon were frying in the kitchen. The old man turned to look at me.

“Nice.” he said as he looked back down at his paper. I noticed he had an accent of some sort which I detected through his deep gravelly voice.

He said it was nice. Well there you go. Trees do smell good then. I continued to revel in the hint of cedar all the way to work.

I spritzed each morning for about a week. Every day the old man would sniff the air and in his accented voice give me a “Nice.” or “Good.” By the end of the week he even said, “I like it.” The cologne was nice but after a few more days I tired of the daily blast of bergamot and decided to see if the old man might like to have the remainder of the bottle. I didn’t want to offend him by offering but since the extent of our communication after three years had only been head nods and cologne compliments, I was pretty sure he would take my offer at face value.

The next morning I boarded the bus with the bottle of cologne in a clear plastic bag. I sat down beside the old man and debated whether I should ask him if he’d like to have it. I saw him glance towards me and sniff the air, searching. I hadn’t spritzed. I had simply packed the cologne in the bag. As he continued his occasional searching sniffs, I pulled the cologne out of my coat pocket.

“Would you like this?” I asked, waiting for either no response or an immediate cursing from an insulted old man.

He looked down at the cologne and in that deep gravelly voice said “Yes” with an accent I still could not figure out. He took the cologne, put it in his coat pocket, and continued reading his paper.

Well at least he didn’t curse me, I thought as I looked through the windows to see how close we might be to the next bus stop. That’s when I heard his voice again.

“How much?” he asked.

“Oh, I don’t want money. You can have it if you want it.” I said, embarrassed that old man must have thought I was trying to sell him a used bottle of tree sap.

“No. How much I use?” he clarified.

“Oh. Just a spritz.” I said as I automatically raised my hand to demonstrate in the air. I pumped one finger up and down and absent-mindedly “air spritzed” pretty much all over myself. That may have been the mistake. Or perhaps the word “spritz” is not easily translated into the language he normally spoke.

As I waited for the bus the very next morning I was anxious to see if the old man had used the cologne. It would be my turn to sniff the air. As the bus pulled up and stopped to let me board, I wondered if the heat inside was on too high because I saw two open windows and several people fanning the air. In fact, one woman near the seat I normally take was actually covering her face with a handkerchief.

The bus door opened and something hit me. A wall of bergamot, juniper, and much more than a mere hint of cedar punched me in the face. My eyes watered instantly as I walked down the aisle to my usual seat beside the old man. I noticed several empty seats around him. There would be no need to sniff the air to search for the fragrance. It had met me at the door and walked me to my seat.

I sat down beside the old man and stared straight ahead. I didn’t know what to say.

He looked up from his paper. “I used it.” he said as he looked directly at me.

“Oh, you did?” I asked politely. I could now actually taste juniper.

He rustled around in his coat pocket and handed me something. “You need this back?” he asked in the accented gravelly voice.

Through watering eyes I looked down to see the now empty cologne bottle in his hand.

“You used all of that?” I asked just before the bergamot began to make my throat close.

“Yes.” he responded as he raised his hand to demonstrate. He did the finger pumping motion all around his body.

How much?” I asked as a hint of cedar slapped me twice across the face.

“Many, many spritz.” he said, as he turned back to read his paper.

Stuart M. Perkins

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My Old Stuff

My coworker, Clarice, frantically motioned me into her office as I walked towards the copier. She barely looked up from her computer as her hand rapidly waved me towards her desk.

“Isn’t this Italian antique walnut burl carved armoire beautiful?” she asked.

What?” I asked in response. I wasn’t even sure she was speaking English.

She turned the computer towards me, pointed to the photo, and waited for me to be awed.

“Oh.” I said. “Where I’m from that’s just a wardrobe.”

You have one of these?” she asked with a slight smirk.

“No, but I have a cedar wardrobe that was my maternal great-grandmother’s.” I answered.

“Oh, of course. My uncle owns an antique shop in Baltimore.” she said as she turned the computer back towards herself.

“I like old stuff.” I said as I left her office to continue to the copier.

I do like old stuff and I have plenty. The stuff isn’t just old, each piece once belonged to someone in my family. Various things from both sides, passed down, and down again, until fortunately they landed with me. The old stuff I have isn’t that valuable in terms of dollars, but whether furniture, rug, picture, or simple trinket, each has a story that was told to me when I received the item. When I look at each of these things I imagine the person who first owned them, touched them, where in their own house they might have kept them, and if they could have ever thought that so many years later a relative would look at them daily and be grateful to have them.

The armoire that Clarice showed me in the photo was a pretty piece of furniture but it meant nothing to me. I would rather have my great-grandmother’s cedar wardrobe than all the armoires in Italy, but I don’t know antiques. I only know my old stuff.

When I invited coworkers to come over one evening after work Clarice was the first to say yes. She was quick to tell me she couldn’t wait to see my antique armoire.

“It’s a cedar wardrobe.” I reminded her.

“Of course.” she said.

Everyone arrived that day after work and we chatted about families, the weekend, and office gossip. Clarice walked instantly to the cedar wardrobe to inspect it. As she stood beside the huge piece of furniture she looked down beneath her feet.

“This is an American antique hooked rug from the 1930’s I would guess.” she said as she stepped aside to give it a closer look. “Is it from a specialty shop?”

“No, it’s from Mama’s hallway.” I said as I laughed. “One day I commented that I liked it so she picked it up and gave it to me.”

“Of course.” Clarice said as she noticed a small piece of furniture in the corner. “What an absolutely beautiful vintage telephone table!” she said. “Did you find that at an auction?”

“No, my paternal grandmother gave it to me. It was in the upstairs hall of her farmhouse for decades.” I said. “She really did keep her phone and phone book on it.”

“Of course.” Clarice said as she stepped across the room to ask about a bowl and pitcher she noticed on a washstand. “This bowl and pitcher might be ironstone, I think. Did it come from a dealer?”

“No, it came from my maternal grandmother.” I answered. “It was on her dining room table every time I ever visited her. She gave it to Mama, who gave it to me.”

This process repeated for the next few minutes, then several times throughout the evening as one thing or another caught Clarice’s eye. She flitted from room to room asking about everything from the cedar wardrobe to my grandmother’s old handheld pruners that I keep on a shelf simply because I like to look at them and remember. Her every comment ended by asking if a particular item came from a shop, auction, estate sale, or dealer. My every response ended by answering that it came from a grandparent, great-grandparent, uncle, or aunt. I followed with the story I knew for each item that she pointed out.

As this process wore on, it became clear that Clarice realized the difference I meant between antiques and my old stuff. She began to be more interested in the story behind each piece than she was in the piece itself.

Clarice’s husband came with her that evening. He told her he liked the cedar wardrobe and had also noticed a large enamel pitcher I had in the kitchen. He asked, “I don’t suppose you bought this either?” as he pointed towards the pitcher.

“No, that hung under the steps of the two-story porch on my grandmother’s farmhouse. She gave it to me one day for helping her pull corn.” I said.

“Does everything have a story?” he asked with a grin.

“Of course.” I answered.

The evening came to an end and coworkers and I had a great time laughing and talking about many other things besides the old stuff I had sitting around everywhere. As they left, Clarice’s husband stopped her at the door. “Maybe we should check out a few antique stores tomorrow. I’d like to look for a cedar wardrobe and maybe a ceramic pitcher or two like the one in Stuart’s kitchen.” he said. “One can never have too many antiques.” Clarice looked at her husband, then glanced around my living room one more time.

“We have enough antiques.” Clarice said. “I wish we had old stuff.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Kindred Connection

“I dread the holidays.” The woman seated beside me on the bus today said. She flipped through pages of a sales flyer that reminded her to buy early and save.

“The shopping?” I asked.

“No, the family!” she responded. “I’ll have to spend time around all of my father’s siblings and I’ve never felt connected to them. Did you spend much time around your aunts or uncles while growing up?”

“Oh yeah…”, I began as the memories started flowing.

She interrupted me. “His siblings lived nearby but didn’t interact with me very much. How about yours?”

“Oh yeah…” I said as I stared upwards about to relate a funny family story.

Again she cut me short. “I just didn’t enjoy being around them.” she added.

Instead of being cut off, I only nodded my head in understanding.

However, I didn’t really understand at all. I was lucky to come into this world literally surrounded by a large extended family. My father’s siblings were also my neighbors because my grandparents had a small farm and had given each of their five children an adjoining piece of property on which to build homes and raise families. Because they lived beside me, across the field, or just past the walnut tree, my aunts and uncles were as much a part of everyday life as my parents.

There are countless recollections I associate with my father’s sisters and brothers, but some specific memories come to mind whenever I think of each individual.

My aunt Noody encouraged me in whatever I had set my mind to. When I was a kid she spoke to me as though I were an adult and she made me feel relevant. We often took neighborhood walks together and talked about anything that crossed our minds. I trimmed her crepe myrtles and in return she made for me the best potato soup I ever had.  When our extended family gathered at the bay, Noody not only laughed at us kids playing in the water, she joined in. In swimming cap festooned with pink plastic flowers she patiently taught me to float on my back. She went roller skating with us kids too. One particular night I rested on the sidelines and she said “Don’t sit there like an old man. Come skate!”

My aunt Jenny once brushed a spider off of me once. When the giant hairy thing crawled up my pants leg she instantly brushed it away with her bare hand. She was my hero for doing that. Jenny laughed loudly and liked to hear others do the same. Once, while several of us kids were in a swimming pool, Jenny suddenly came down the sliding board wearing a huge floppy hat and holding an open umbrella above her head. She laughed as hard as we did when she plunged into the pool. Every Halloween for several years she drove my sister and me around town to visit people. Too old for trick-or-treating, we still dressed up as old women and no one laughed at us any harder than Jenny.

Interrupting my thoughts, the woman on the bus said, “And when I was a kid they never did anything fun with me. Did yours?”

“Oh yeah…” I began again, smiling at the funny anecdote I was about to tell.

She cut me off again. “My family is just not fun.” she said.

Assuming she was finished, I started thinking again.

My uncle Tuck, for decades now, has made sure that our extended family has been able to use the cottage on the bay. Tuck insists we use the cottage whenever we can and is kind enough to update us on where in the shed the fishing poles are located, not to forget to use the crab pots if we want, and to please try to go down more than we did last year. With each trip down he reminds us to help ourselves to anything we find in the refrigerator and to just have fun. There were also many times when Tuck’s calm and logical advice helped me figure out solutions to quite a few problems.

My uncle Jiggs was at our house on my first birthday. Mama said he came in, squatted down, and called me. The first steps I ever took were from Mama to Jiggs there in the kitchen. Jiggs lived across the field but also had a farm where I spent many summer weekends. When up against what to me were impossible mechanical issues with maybe a tractor or truck, Jiggs would  calmly suggest we just “think about this thing for a minute”. By the end of a cup of coffee Jiggs had thought it through and miraculously, to me anyway, solved the problem. During that process Jiggs never got upset. He would make a joke out of it, think about it, then fix it.

Fortunately, as a kid, I had an almost daily connection with my father’s siblings and their spouses who influenced me just as much. I can’t imagine growing up without their presence, guidance, and comedy! I was thinking about them all when the woman on the bus elbowed me to get my attention.

“And they’ll ask me questions over and over but when I begin to answer they’ll just cut me off. Ever known anyone like that? she asked.

“Oh yeah.” I said.

Stuart M. Perkins

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