Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why the Smell of Bleach Always Makes Me Cry

It’s amazing to me, after a person is gone, what kinds of things remind you of them and of the time that you spent together. Smells are especially strong memory triggers for me which is why the smell of bleach made me cry today.

Bleach will always make me think of my grandma (AKA Gum Gum). Growing up, we spent a lot of time at her house, and we always knew when she was doing laundry because the aroma of Clorox hung heavy not only in the house, but for about six miles down the road. She liked bleach. Every single time that I use bleach, it makes me think of her, and I am suddenly standing next to her in the basement, in front of her old washing machine that had the wringer that you had to feed the clothes through rather than today’s machines that have a spin cycle.

So much of my childhood was spent standing next to her, which is why two and a half years after her death it is still so painful that I wasn’t next to her when she left this world. Because Elyse was born two days after Gum Gum died, I didn’t get to stand next to her to say goodbye at her funeral either. The complete lack of closure has been a tough pill to swallow because I know that I will never get that chance back. I have to remind myself nearly every day that she is gone because it still just doesn’t seem real. To me, she will always be sitting at her kitchen table, sipping coffee, and waiting for someone to stop by with some good, juicy gossip.

We were having dinner at this local pizza buffet a few weeks ago and I passed by their pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. It smelled so much like Gum Gum’s that it actually caught me off guard and I stopped dead in my tracks for a second. It was so familiar and comforting that I could have stood there all day.

It has been especially tough since the holidays are here. Walking through Target the other day I saw a gift set of little jelly jars and it made me all misty. Jelly was her staple gift. We got it for her every year.

She made the most amazing poppy seed rolls every Christmas, and right now her dining room table would have been covered with them, as she gave them out to just about everyone in town.

I imagine what her face would have looked like on Christmas Eve watching my kids opening presents and running around exploding with excitement like my sisters and I did at her house every year. She would have gotten such a kick out of them, and it breaks my heart that she never got to meet Elyse.

As much as it pains me to have not been there to say goodbye, there was a piece of me that always knew that I would never see her like that; at her funeral. I don’t know what it was, but when I would think back to when my Pap died and everything that we went through with his viewing and funeral I just knew deep down that I would never experience that for her. Maybe I just wasn’t meant to live through the finality of it all.

My memories of her are as vivid as if they happened yesterday. As much as I wish that I had had the opportunity to say goodbye, maybe I was just meant to remember her as she was without the filter of knowing how the story ends.

Someday, a long time from now, I want to sit down with Elyse and tell her what an amazing great-grandmother she had, I want to teach her how to make the most amazing poppy seed rolls, and I will explain to her why the smell of bleach always makes me cry.