Grandmother’s Garden

Childhood memories, our grandmothers, the love of our families in the first years of life… Are they important?

I never thought of it and how fortunate I was to have and know my grandmother. Of course, it would have been ideal to also know my grandmother on my father’s side and my grandfathers, but they were no longer with us, as my mother vaguely explained every time I asked. My mother had a way with words and not answering my questions, so what I learned from her was to tell my children about my life and theirs in early childhood, when a foundation of trust, self esteem and feeling love and connection to our families, our origins start to develop.

Only when we no longer have something we notice how much it meant to us. I often wondered about the feelings of children who had no grandparents… They didn’t know how it felt to connect and be unconditionally loved by a grandmother, which is a unique, special kind of love, different than any other. I felt sad for them, but at the same time the thought made me write this post which is dedicated to MY GRANDMOTHER, my mother’s Mom.

She lived in Iasi, a good seven-hour train ride from Bucharest, the capital of Romania, where we lived. We, meaning my mother, father and myself. Distance didn’t seem to be a problem and beside my grandmother visiting us in Bucharest, what I remember and treasure the most are the times I spent in Iasi with her and my aunt, my mother’s sister who lived with grandmother and her husband. My grandfather, as I mentioned before, was another “mistery,” he was not with us…he was dead.

My grandmother’s house was different than anything I knew existed. Odd things, such as there was no bathroom in the house and we had to walk all the way to the back of the yard to a very disgusting sort of toilet. Such as not having running water, and going with my uncle to get two big buckets of water from the public well, which was a good mile away from our house. But these trips were fun, the walking down an unpaved, dust road, the stopping to chat with friendly neighbors.

The memories of the times that stayed with me and gave me strength through the years are the little important things: my grandmother’s love and thoughtfulness expressed in little gestures, far more significant than having running water and a toilet inside the home.

Her house was small, but cozy and comfortable. The back yard was what to me was a Paradise: flowers, trees, herbs, even grapes I was picking off the wine. My favorite tree was a very old walnut under which I spent many days trying to train my pet, a chicken named Fairy (Zinica). I baptized her, with rain water because I feared when she left the Earth she’ll go to Hell if she wasn’t Christened.

Memories of roses…
Every morning, as I woke up, before opening my eyes, I smelled a rose. Every morning, my grandmother took the time to cut a fresh rose and put it on my pillow to wake me up in a good mood. To this day, all it takes to change my mood to happy is to smell a rose…
Well… she was also a great cook and baker, so the smell of freshly baked goods is also something that brings up good memories.

I often wondered why are smells so important and why a smell brings up in us instant memories and emotions?

I researched our five senses (if you ask me, they are six) and learned that of all senses the ONLY one that goes to our limbic system in the brain, which is the oldest and connected to memories and emotions, is THE SENSE OF SMELL!
The sense of smell, unlike the others, which travel straight to a part of the brain called “thalamus,” which works like a switchboard in our brain, and re-distributes our senses signals to various parts of the brain, therefore our being conscious of them is not immediate, as it is with the sense of smell.
This is why, the conscious processing of smells is immediate, before it reaches the consciousness of the odor.

The importance of context.

Let’s say my grandmother lived on a farm and the predominant smell was horse manure. Probably, my good memories would be triggered by that smell. Thank God she woke me up with the smell of roses and freshly baked cookies.

I learned from my grandmother many values which made my solid foundation, which carried me through the ups and downs of life.

I remember she always told the truth and sometimes it hurt, yet she always chose to tell it as it was…

This reminds me of an incident, and that it was not always “the smell of roses.”

The Farmer’s Market was at the bottom of a steep hill and grandmother’s house all the way up, at the top.

My aunt and I went to the market. My aunt was a heavy set woman, who walked up the hill with difficulty. She gave me to carry a sac of potatoes. Probably 4-5 potatoes.

As we walked up the hill, I got tired. I told her I could no longer carry the potatoes, but she screamed at me. She was not nice! I decided to “punish her.”

I kept on walking, ahead of her, and when I arrived at the top of the hill, I dropped the sac of potatoes, which rolled all the way down, to the bottom of the hill! I will never know if she walked back to get those potatoes, because I ran as fast as I could and hid between a fence and the house’s wall, where I knew she was too heavy and big to reach me!

I still have in my mind the image of my poor aunt trying to fit between the narrow space between the house wall and the fence. I spent hours in that space, until a kind neighbor and my grandmother came to “negotiate” with me and under what conditions was I coming out, as it was getting dark.

I must have been a good negotiator, because I don’t remember being punished harshly … I am sure I was, because somehow I learned early in life that we have choices and there are consequences, and they could be good or bad, depending on our deeds. Dropping the sac of potatoes certainly didn’t qualify as a good deed.

Thank you grandmother, for everything you taught me, for the good and the fun memories and especially for…
The Smell of Roses!” IMG_0161_2