The Memory of Scent and a Road Less Travelled

imagesI sat in meditation this morning beneath a gentle sun on a perfect Queensland winter’s day. As I filtered out the garbage of the past few days, what finally came to me was a scent. A memory of  scent. Vanilla cup cakes in my home economics class back when I was sixteen years old. The smell was overwhelming, like I was there in the room with my friends and we had just whipped a batch of steamy hot cakes from the oven. The Home Ec room always smelled of vanilla cupcakes to me, no matter what. So why was I recalling this familiar smell some thirty years later?  I ran with it, stayed with the vision of the classroom, the scent, the feeling of being back at school through the long hot  days of a Caringbah summer. I could feel the coolness of the classroom fold around me after coming in from the playground. And constantly throughout the meditation, the smell of cupcakes.

After, I thought about those days back at school. The gender stereotyping as the girls whipped batches of food and the boys played down the corridor with saws and sanders and dangerous machinery. We crossed paths by our own sneaky means to travel down a road of taboo forbidden by those who had travelled before us. My thoughts wandered along this path of taboo at the end of which stood my father. A pointing finger and “get in the house” accompanied that vision. Memories of being confined to a life where I couldn’t do what “the others” could do. I wasn’t allowed. I rebelled, of course. Got myself into all sorts of mischief  and loved it. Because it enraged my father, mostly. It drove a clean sharp wedge between my father and I. His want to protect me and my need to be independent. I never saw protection in his actions. I only saw control and disappointment in his eyes. I never felt like I lived up to his great expectations. 

The gap widened into my young adult years. At one point I hated him, a thought that shames me now. My hatred was born out of ignorance – as most hatred is. I was ignorant to who he was. What he was about. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I didn’t want to know either. I didn’t want to be controlled anymore. I only ever saw me in our equation. Never “us”. To see “us” took me years. To understand “us” took most of our time together  on Earth. I remember the day the wall came down. I was visiting him one summer and we’d gone down to the beach – just him and me. It was rare to have time on our own because I don’t think either of really knew what to say. It was a road less travelled. I think we avoided it for years. But here we were, on this day. A day like today – sunny and warm and full of promise. We sat on the rocks and for the first time in years we talked. Not like father and feuding daughter but like friends. Old friends finding each other at the tip of a mountain of regret, conquered and now all behind us. It was the day we moved forward. The day I learned to love my father again. The day I unmasked him as a villain of my own making. The world can only be what I think it is. And I must be responsible for my thoughts, my actions, my love.

In the silence of this morning’s meditation came the memory of cupcakes and the realisation that my father was only ever the monster I made him out to be.I was the one at fault. Not him. But I got the chance to balance the equation, to tread a road with my father that I never thought I would.  To see “us” on equal footing. I finally got to have my cake and eat it too. Strangely, my father loved vanilla cupcakes.


5 thoughts on “The Memory of Scent and a Road Less Travelled

  1. This is beautiful. I love how vividly smell takes us back in time. Music does the same for me. Just yesterday I was listening to old albums from my early teens, and walking the trails of my youth.

    I don’t think there is any teenager (even the most perceptive) who truly understands ‘we’, or sees their parents as real human beings – people that are still learning and who have loved and lost and who make mistakes too. We only see this once we’re adults too.

    (By the way, I read this as a genuine reflection on your life, but am suddenly concerned that it is one of your short fictional stories and I’m reading too much into it!)

    • Hi Katherine,

      Thanks for your lovely comment. You raised some good points – particularly teenagers not really seeing a “we”. I guess I look back at my father through adult eyes and can identify my bad teenage behaviour because there is distance now between the person I was and the person I am now. I certainly lacked insight back then. Music also takes me back and can have me relive great chunks of my life. The senses are amazing. Such wonderful gifts to have in the grand scheme of things. You make a good point in your last sentence. I will create a category for writings like this. It is a genuine reflection of life. One that has taken a long time to show up on “paper”.

  2. I’m glad you found some peace.

    We men love the war a little too much; and now it is too late, for me. My father is in an institution, he drools and gibbers, and his mind is jelly.

    I can’t make peace with a vegetable.

    I’ve tried before.

    There is still no armistice between myself and cauliflower. (which Dad made me eat on pain of a thrashing as a child)

    Still, this is about you, not me.

    I am glad you made peace with him, and glad he was still ‘there’ to enjoy the full force of reconciliation…

    Keep doing well, Lynn Priestley…

    • Thanks,to you.

      I think what I have written is probably about all of us, in some shape or form. Inner peace is a sort after state, me thinks. It was good to make peace. It was good to turf out all the excuses I’d stockpiled for years, all the reasons why I couldn’t/wouldn’t forgive him for hurting me. There came a time when I had to admit the only person hurting me was me by blaming him. When I logged out of the blame game, the fire went out of our war. I don’t think you necessarily need to make peace with a vegetable. Just with yourself. You matter, despite cauliflower, drool and mindful jelly.

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