Figuring out what I wanna be when I grow up.
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Friday, May 25, 2012

The Smell Of Family

An Uncle of mine died two weeks ago.  

He was my Mother's brother.  In the past four years, we have lost three members of my Mom's family.  My grandfather died a long time ago.  So, all that's left in this family now are my two aunts, one of whom had us all over for dinner this evening.  

I've talked about my Polish grandmother before.  I live in her house now.  I've been trying to recreate her pierogies.  I still miss her.  

As I was at my aunt's tonight, there were so many familiar...things.  My aunt bought chocolate bars for all the kids--just like my Mom would have done.  She also remembered that Jack likes mint chocolate.  She had a piece of cake sliced, wrapped, and on a paper plate for me to take home, because it's my favourite coconut cake--like my Mom would have done.  

We sat and reminisced about my uncle:  his dry wit, his notorious lack of patience, that crazy little sport car he had with NO leg room for anyone in the back seat.  There were lots of photos, from fairly recent all the way back to my brother and I being small kids, to the old black and white photos when my Mother and her family were young.  

But what really grabbed me was the food.  


When all the food was set out, and we were invited to come and eat, I was delighted, and almost relieved in a strange way.  The food smelled Polish.  How can I describe it?  My aunt made fried chicken, and potato salad, and a cucumber and tomato salad, and sausages and peppers and cabbage rolls.  And it all just smelled Polish.  

There is a certain ineffable quality to the food I grew up with at special occasions and when we came to Grandma's house.  It was the Christmas dinner table all set.  It was Grandma's house.  It was the smell of cooked cabbage and onions fried in butter, and something pickled and sour. It was something delicious that took a long time to make.  Something special that most other families weren't lucky enough to eat. 

I haven't had cabbage rolls in a long time.  I've never made them myself yet.  I'm going to have to learn.  

I don't know.  There are people in my life who are disappearing now.  I'm old enough.  It's that circle of life.  When only my brother and sister and I are left, where will that intangible quality of "Polish" go?  

Tonight, as we remembered my Uncle, those feelings of the past and the present were all very close together, mingled and woven through with that mysterious smell of family.  





16 comments:

  1. I have tears in my eyes. I know exactly what you are talking about, that smell of family. My Grandma had her smell-food wise and always line dried sheets. Whenever I smell that, I think of her. And my old farm family from when I was a child. I recently stood behind an older fellow who was obviously a farmer, who smelled like a mix of hay and tractor and fresh dirt! I wanted to bury my face in his shirt! Enjoy these times. Learn those recipes. Cook something long and slow and vinegary, leave your house for ten minutes and walk back in and feel the memories wash over you! And just know that your Mom and Grandma and Uncle are probably having supper together every night! Sorry for your loss, honey. Hugs

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    1. thanks Leanne. That was a great image you presented of the farmer, with his nostalgic scent.

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  2. Whenever I smelled percolated coffee, I think of my grandma. She always had that going whenever we stayed at her house.
    I am sorry to hear about your uncle.

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    1. thanks Ruth. I find it so interesting how closely connected smell is to memory.

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  3. I'm so sorry to hear about your uncle. He looks like a good guy. It's so long since I have had proper family - I don't remember if there was a smell (other than cigarettes and anger). It's been just my brother and me for so long... but now that he is married and has a couple of kids, I hope that they will grow up with happy memories of family times and good food and leftover cake wrapped on a paper plate. That's important, foundational.

    So glad you adopted me. I need it.

    Sarah xxx

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    1. thanks Sarah. That's a 1981 pic of my uncle. Cigarettes and anger is a bad smell, but even the smell of a smokey house now is slightly nostalgic to me. Ah well, life is weird.

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  4. How can you live without cabbage rolls?

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  5. those things that feel so special when you experience them, like the food smells, somehow rarely make it to the priority level in our own lives. why is that? i sure loved eating the huge feasts on holidays, but i surely do not want to do all the work. does that mean my own kid won't have the same yummy-smelling food memories? sad.
    i should do better.
    i'm sorry your family is shrinking. at least you have your siblings.

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    1. I think I'm the same as you, Sherilin. And yet, I try to recreate all the things I loved to eat, and I don't think Ella likes half of them. Maybe she'll remember the rare cakes I make.

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  6. In a not amusing way, I do get sudden smells that take me back to being around my nana's house, so I get what you mean xxx

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    1. funny how smells will trigger these things!

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  7. I was really sorry to hear of Mike's passing Karen. I remember his sports car with the roadrunner sticker on the back!
    How is Pam doing? She must be so upset. Send her my best.

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    1. thanks Pam. Pam is doing okay, all things considered. That's funny you remember that car as well! You truly are blessed/cursed with the crazy memory we all have.

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  8. I'm sure I read somewhere that smell is the most basic of the senses, first to come and last to go. Don't know if that's true, but since babies know their mums by smell, perhaps it is. Certain smells really do transport you right back in time. For me, it's pipe smoke (our house, and those of my uncles and grandparents always smelled of pipe tobacco and smoke) and roast dinners cooking.
    I'm sorry that you are losing people, Karen. But you can be the keeper of the Polishness for the next generation, and make those cabbage rolls. Even if the kids never eat them! xxxx

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  9. Pipe smoke is a pleasant smell though--much nicer than cigarette!!! So, pipe smoke and roast dinners is very homey indeed. You're right Curtise--I SHOULD make that food!!!

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