We were sitting at Dad's kitchen table, recalling days long gone, when Dad mentioned names of long ago, and the places we used to visit with my grandmother.
I was lost in memories for a while and could actually smell the different homes...strange as that may seem. Souris's smelt of roasted peanuts, they grew them as a side crop. Lahanas's always evoked memories of coffee, strong Greek coffee, and wonderful baking...then there was the aniseed that grew in Langley's garden... there were so many wonderful smells that seemed to be drifting in the rememberances of days gone past.
I must have been about four or five when I was seduced by baklava.. to this day, there is nothing like the aroma of freshly baked baklava... the cinnamon, the syrup, the freshly chopped nuts and of course, the pastry. But more than just the smell of the baking, I recall the floral perfumes that my Aunt always wore... she had a cafe in Sydney and used to send baklava back to us when my father did the run from our home to Sydney markets and back. Baklava and Aunt's perfume always go together, wrapped in such sweet memories. Many coffee shops sell baklava and other Greek treats these days, but how can they compete with home made?
While Aunt wore light florals, I recall the overpowering lavender that permeated the home of a neighbour...in those days, I hated it, or maybe it was the fact that it was mixed with 'eau de kitten...'
My grandmother's home was surrounded by what today we would call a cottage garden..albeit a rather wild one. There certainly was aniseed, and fennel, and rosellas... highly scented orange and lemon blossoms, delicate dianthus, wild climbing roses... they definitely owned the garden and grew wherever they wished, scattering fragrant petals at whim. Not far away, my grandfather had a few bee hives. How I loved it when he would bring wooden framed honeycomb, dripping with rich, sweetly cloying honey... so exciting for a five year old. Even more exciting when an uncle insisted on tasting the first bit of honeycomb one day and bit into a piece, only to yell ever so loudly... he'd been stung by an irritated bee. We children, in our innocence of pain from bee stings, thought it was ever so funny.
Dad's other sister used to make the lightest cakes and the best kourabiethes. The house was then filled with the sickly sweet smell of icing sugar that seemed to last for ages, and cloves. I used to crush the cloves, just to smell them. To me, they always did, and still do, smell so clean and with promises of good things to come. This Aunt was the one who helped us gather flowers in later years to take to my grandfather's grave... delicate roses, heady with perfume, or maybe some vibrant pansies, daring to compete with their cheeky faces.
We would walk along the dusty road, carrying our offerings, and stopping along the way to admire a gum tree, or a bottle brush. If we were wandering in August, there would be glorious wattle lining the way for part of it. It would make my Aunt sneeze, but I loved it, and couldn't resist adding a sprig or two to my bunch of flowers. Wattle always smells of the coming springtime.
The cemetery was never frightening to me as it was to some of my young friends. My mother had told me that was where my beloved grandfather was resting and any place that cared for him had to be alright. He died just a couple of months after I turned five and I miss him to this day. He was tall and strong, yet a true gentle man. Thinking of him, I recall his grey patterned cardigan, and his grey moustache, that always had a faint whisp of tobacco from his pipe. His hands were those of a hard working farmer, but they were safe and loving. He would pick mandarins for me and rub the skin on my hand and bade me smell it.. 'nothing like it, little one'. He was the one who taught us how to crush macadamia nuts in a vice..pick out the meat from the shell and then put the shells in the garden. A macadamia has such a different smell when not quite ripe to when it's outer shell is about to split, revealing the dark brown, woody shell within.. the first is similar to a wet leaf, the second smells of wood, almost dusty at times.
Dad placed a cup of hot, steaming tea in front of me... "Do you remember how the shed smelt of apples?" Another story, another day...
(c) Crissouli May 2006