From September 2008…

In all that’s different between my sister and me, we have so many bizarre similarities for living over 1,600 miles apart. We both use Aveda’s Hang Straight on our hair. Occasionally we have the same Liz Clairborne purse. And a few Sundays ago, we both discovered linens from Grandma Murphy’s house in our own homes. We did the same thing: Hoped. And lifted them to our noses. I knew the purple satin pajamas would not smell like Grandma’s. I’ve had them a long time and had sniffed them before. Leslie’s was a surprise bag – a big black garbage bag full of miscellaneous towels and clothes. She smelled a turtleneck and there it was. She wrapped it up and put it back into the bag quickly. We talked three days later and were a little freaked out when we realized we had been “sniffin’” on the same day. Leslie promised I could smell the turtleneck when I visited.

Later at her house, she opened the bag quickly. Took a deep sniff and gave the turtleneck to me. It was there. We quickly shuffled through the bag looking for more. A finger towel I had given to Grandma years ago was still fragrant. Not wanting the smell to evaporate, Leslie quickly wrapped it in a third towel and put the bundle in a Ziploc bag. The third towel was a protective armor against the smell of the baggy. I carried it in my hand luggage from Mitchellville to Cedar Rapids to Chicago to Boston. Worried that I would lose it, I continually checked on it enroute: It was still there when I got home.

Breathing it in sends me time traveling. I’m home visiting, staying with my brother and his family in town, about five minutes from Grandma’s apartment. I call Dad the night before and say, “I’ll go see Grandma in the morning.” The next morning, I roll out of bed, put clothes on, and go to Grandma’s. The door is unlocked, which means she’s awake – probably dressed in the dark and wheeled herself to the living room at 3 a.m. Then I’m sitting in Grandpa’s old recliner, Portmerion Botanic Garden coffee mug in hand, immersed in the smell of her apartment. “I thought your dad would be here by now.” I reply, “I told him you and I were going to visit this morning.” “Oh,” a hint of disappointment glazed with gratitude for my being there. I don’t feel under-appreciated. She wants what she wants when she wants it. Always had, always would.

I hesitate to call it a smell or to say I sniffed it. It’s more of a living remnant from a life that left earth nearly four years ago. A breath of life that is gone. A haunting. One that I daren’t visit too often, after all, how many sniffs are in there? I don’t want to use all of them up. Don’t want to breathe it in too greedily.

The gift of my nose. If I’m ever bed-ridden, I’ve thought about what I want under my nose as I take my last breaths: lilacs, cilantro, Johnson’s baby soap, and now, those finger towels.

Written November 2009...

Day 10 of chemo round #2, 4:30 a.m., I’m enjoying a cup of coffee in my Portmerion Botanic Garden coffee mug. Hand-washed daily, it hasn’t met its demise. When we have house guests, I put it away in the china hutch. When it breaks, I will cry. I don’t want someone else to break it and think they are the cause of my tears.

My sister’s turtleneck was accidentally washed. I offered her half of my sniffs when she came out in October, but she declined as she held the towel to her nose, saying there wasn’t enough left to share.