When I close my eyes I smell the scent of dryness and salty sweat, lately this scent comes to me readily and smells like the Atlantic with a stale undercurrent. It is not unpleasant, just familiar. This smell that has locked my senses these past few weeks comes from the efforts of moving from where we were to where we are.
Moving is an emotional and physical task whether you are going to another state, across town, or simply out the front door without a safety net. We move to take new jobs, to follow our children, to find more favorable climes, to reduce expenses, to improve status, and at times because we have no choice. The act of packing and unpacking our things stirs the memories and affects the heart. It is an act that forces us to relive times both good and bad, and forces us to consolidate our memories, putting some in storage, sending others off to Goodwill.
There is a story attached to most things I lift, load, and transport. Even more so since my wife is seventh generation Memphian. This means that much of our furniture can be traced back at least three of those generations. I never tire of touching a table and hearing that it belonged to her Great Grandmother, or looking at a black and white photograph of some starched relative long since settled back into the haze of time. Even though I am a first generation Southerner (second if you follow my momma’s tracks), the Southerner in me instinctively imprints my thoughts, hopes, dreams, and history on the objects I have accumulated.
I never knew how much I missed my books until I pulled them out of the attic (box after overloaded box). I bent over them, inhaled the aroma of dust, paper, and cloth and sighed audibly. I reached out to stroke dust jackets and covers, their familiar textures alive beneath the graze of my finger tips. I saw books that belonged to my Father. I was particularly drawn to a history of the Panama Canal, and found myself a child/young man (memories are foggy shifting things and I cannot place my age) listening to my father tell me of the courage of the men who connected two oceans. I found the journals of my paternal Grandfather, they are in Arabic, he was from Bethlehem. He is a man I never knew, he having died some time before I was born and I believe someplace far away. I flipped pages as I would with any book and catch myself. It is in Arabic, he wrote these (from my anglo-perspective) in reverse. Reverently, I flipped the now fragile volume in my hands and turn through pages “properly” – back to front, scanning right to left. Part of me wants to get these mysterious epistles of my father’s father translated. Part of me thinks that they are too personal to leave to a third party and I need to learn Arabic and translate them myself. Part of me is simply content with having a sense of connectedness to a man I have only visited in the tales my father told me.
I find in the basement my catchers mitt. The leather smells of baseball, and summer. It is well broken in, my hand flexes it with ease. I slip into a typical kid’s reverie, of being a big league player crouching behind a plate, smelling the groomed dirt, the chalk marking the boundaries of play, and grass that could only have come from heaven. I purchased this glove just a decade and half ago. I got it because our son pitched in high school and wanted to play in college more than anything (which he would do). I recall buying a home plate and a pitching rubber for home. I built a mound (10 ½ inches above home plate – no more, no less), and placed home plate exactly sixty feet six inches from the rubber (a sacred distance). We wouldn’t just play catch, I was the target where he first honed his skills. He threw much harder than I ever did or will, and I quickly had to invest in full catchers garb for my own protection, and still I came away with some bruises. The last time I remember a game of catch with him was a time he came home from college. He asked me to go to the park with him and toss the ball around. With no small swelling of pride, I grabbed my regular mitt, and drove with him to a nearby softball field. It was approaching dusk, and on his first throw to me, I lost the ball in the half light and caught it with my eye. We packed it up while laughing and have never really played catch sense.
In a load of clothing I brought downstairs, there was a translucent plastic garment bag in which a light blue dress was just visible. My wife’s wedding gown was inside. In that instant, the instant of seeing that lovely dress, I was transported sixteen years in time to our wedding. There I stood at the alter, looking up the aisle, and having my breath stolen at the sight of her. She was and is the most beautiful woman in the world. Her (now our) two daughters were the bridesmaids looking lovely in their own right. Her (now our) son gave her away as our gathered friends looked on. After an eternity and no time at all, she was in my arms before friends and family, we were married and kissing in the softly lit church in a world that belonged to just her and I. Afterwards, we stood outside the lovely and intimate Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade with a rainbow at our backs, greeting each of our friends with hugs and smiles. Sadly as I write this, Holy Rosary is being threatened by the raging Waldo Canyon fire – I pray she makes it.
It is two weeks since the move across town; we are still packing up the old house and setting up the new house. My fingers are stained with and smell of newsprint from unwrapping dishes and glasses. My muscles ache making me wish I was a younger, stronger man, but the past is set in concrete, and that young man is unreachable. However, the memories of him and his experiences can still bring a smile, still move me.