Sometimes I travel in time. Usually to specific times and events. To memories that are locked up tight. I don’t know why we remember what we remember; scientists say strong emotion can burn memories into our psyches, and I think thats true. But it doesn’t account for the small moments we remember. The monotonous and simple, the moments we don’t realize are important, but become somehow, the building blocks of our cores.
“Here,” my sister said as she handed me a pink and black wrapped gift on my wedding night, Victoria’s Secret wrapping bound the box perfectly with the familiar pink stripes. When I opened it the pink tissue paper ruffled and inside was a small purple pack with the words Lovespell. I looked up to see her blue eyes wide with excitement, her teeth grinning. “If you use this every day, on your honeymoon” she said, “you will never forget the smell, and years later, the scent will take you back to that very day.” She was sharing a great truth to a new bride.
I ruffled through little purple and violet soaps, and body washes and body sprays. “Okay I said. “I’ll try it.” I was careful to pack it away in my suitcase.
Hawaii. It was the first thing I unpacked as Mrs. Ernst. I arranged the small bottles on the counter. I carefully ordered them in the corner from tallest to shortest. I frowned a bit as I put the body wash in the shower. We only had a shower in our room, and I had romantic ideas. It was harder to shave my legs in the shower but religiously I did, with care and with lovespell.
11 years later and I unpacked my boxes from my latest move. It was exhausting now and I was bone weary. The girlish excitement of playing house was gone, and I was no longer a shiny newlywed. I had experienced a lot of life now, and together my Husband and I had tasted bitterness as well sweetness. I pulled out q-tips from a half used box, and an obscure candle holder covered in sand. A half used bottle of suave conditioner, why did I even pack that I think as I place it in the bathtub. A real garden tub, finally. Our old house only had a shower. I pulled out some towels, haphazardly thrown in the box and a little purple bottle tumbles down. Lovespell. I smile and smell it and close my eyes.
I’m back in Hawaii now, I can hear the ocean. My curtains blow in from the balcony and the sound of laughter wafts up in the sweet, thick, island air. It’s muggy, it’s been raining since we got there. I looked down at the pools and the people, my husband had gone to grab some champagne, I was technically not supposed to be drinking since I would only be 19 in two weeks. He came back into the room with a victorious smile and this time a poorly wrapped package. He carefully pulled out two blue longstem glasses that said outrigger from a crumpled brown paper bag. I laughed, it was so much better than drinking out of water cups. We kissed and smiled until our lips and cheeks hurt. We had everything ahead of us.
Laughter wafted through the air, only now it was my kids running into the room, and I’m back with a half unpacked box. I spritzed the fragrance again in the air and left my box half done. There will be time later.
And so she was right, that it would take me back in time. Time traveling scents. Hibiscus and jasmine send me right back. I needed that smell during the affair, during the wrestling clenching, churning, grasp of pornography, as God freed my husband from it. It ensured I wouldn’t forget. I wouldn’t forget what we were fighting for.
I keep a bottle in my bathroom always now. A reminder of the sweet times increasingly longer ago so they never grow dim or waste away. We have filled that space with college and moves and jobs and 3 little humans, with up and downs, God has blessed us and kept us more than we ever could have known or vowed.
But then there are the memories I visit without an obvious trigger. Places that are so sad, because they are so far gone. They stir a deep and profound longing in my soul because they are so far away now.
Every Sunday my Pastor speaks with a West Virginian accent. It’s toned down a bit I think, probably because of the sheer amount of speaking and traveling he does, but I suspect, like most West Virginians he can turn up the drawl all the way if her chooses
Like me Mema. She was from West Virginia and her accent and her stories captivated me. My Uncle Mark used to love to tell West Virginian jokes, even she would laugh and laugh.
I go there sometimes. It hurts, and cuts, because that place came to such ruin, but I go back, in my mind to my Mema’s house.
I sit in her chair, yellow and green and orange. It was next to her fireplace in the living room. Not the formal den with the piano and weird carpet shampoo smell, but in the gathering room. There was a brick fireplace and on top was a sword and helmet of some sort my dad had brought back from his exploits in the Navy. It was a gift for my Mema and her Bill. Grandpa Bill whom I never met.
The wasting and ruin began before I was born.
But this is a happy memory and next to me is another chair and they both face a brown couch, and above it is a shelf with little, small nick knacks. Everyone was there. 4 uncles and 3 aunt’s and my Dad’s cousins and my great aunt and my Nana. And we would all gather. Because Virginia was so far away from Oregon. And everyone would ask if I remembered them, and I would smile shyly in a 5 year olds fashion and think maybe.
And what I loved most was how loud it was. In every single room there were groups of family laughing, or yelling, and joyful noise was everywhere. My uncle Mark calling for his dog Misty and everyone with their loud southern laughs and the porch swing swinging and the crickets and fireflies going.
And I would sit in that chair and listen. My own Momma’s voice would ring out “John?” and somewhere my Dad’s laugh would ring out like a bell. In the evenings Mema sat in the chair and cross stitched. She would show me her fine work and try to explain it. She would buy me practice squares with yarn and big plastic needles. Except for the time we went to visit for her bypass surgery. Then I sat in the hall and practiced stitching myself, determined to make her happy, and help her feel better.
Slowly we were wasting.
Upstairs I slept in the sewing room. I would align my allotted stuffed animals on the back of another brown couch that pulled out into a bed. Puddles the dog always took the place of prominence on top. This room was quieter, and across the hall was where Mom and Dad would sleep. Im a quilt of little doilies I would climb in bed with them in the mornings and we would all snuggle. Down the velvet wallpapered walls was Mema’s room. And I can go there too.
I can go back to when I was sick. Momma gave me chewy purple tylenol and sat in Mema’s rocking chair. She rocked me while she watched Rush Limbaugh on Mema’s tv. Voices would still ring from downstairs in laughter as everyone caught up with one another and watched tv. The ambient loudness and laughter helped me fall asleep and the televisions light danced in the darkness, and when I was calm enough she laid me in Mema’s bed and I fell asleep.
I remember snuggling my Mema in her bed too, with my big sister. We would fall asleep so happy and content, and wake up to the smell of bacon in the morning. People would spread out and adventured all day and reunite around the table at night when chicken and dumpling and green beans simmered in that morning bacon grease were served. Evenings were spent on the porch telling stories.
I loved the stories. The reminiscing. They time traveled too. I can’t remember their stories. They’ve gone now, like so much else. But I remember how they made me feel, that love.
and I’m happy.
But I’m also sad, because that place is gone.
Gone to ruin and waste. And I long deeply in my sould for that togetherness. But they died.
And I wonder how, and I wonder why, and I ask my God who brings every good and perfect gift what happened, because none of it was good, and none of it was perfect.
I love these moments I travel to, because what I don’t see is the drug use behind the scenes, the alcoholism. The anger and resentment. Hidden abuses.
Just the reunion. Everyone can be their best selves for a week.
I miss the best selves.
And don’t our souls long for reunification? For separation to be put to death. For the fullness of who we are in Christ to be revealed.
And the wasting away of my family began before I was born into it. My grandpa, my half sister. Heart disease and cancer. Then my own Dad died and that place was less. Then my young cousin, then two uncles, aunts left to their addiction or for their own personal health.
My Nana too.
Until finally even my Mema flew away. She wasted away too. Only at that point she had buried all but one son. How can you survive such loss. There were no pallbearers because she was about to be buried next to them.
And the house had wasted. It had fallen into disrepair and disuse and as my Mema and her remaining sons neglected her, I watched as it fell apart.
And now the house is gone and what was left is stained with nicotine. My Uncle James died there from drugs and alcohol and no one knew. Neighbors asked for a welfare check, and when they checked they found a dead man who had neglected his own mother and spent her money on booze.
And the memory wastes again. Even more faint. Where is the joyful noise now?
There is no one left to visit, and my chair is gone. And the clanging of her coo coo clock at midnight, when I felt like such a grown up at 5 years old, for staying awake to hear it is gone too. The chimes are gone.
No matter how much I want to hear stories from my Great Aunt and my Mema about their younger days and their own crazy Aunts, their adventures and exploits as young women. No matter how much I want to fall asleep in Mommas arms in Mema’s chair, its gone. Torn apart, aged.
And I’m left with this longing. This desperate desire to visit a place and a time that no longer exists. To see and feel and touch and love a whole family, that has died away.
And I ask my Father in Heaven why was it this way? And why are people so selfish? And when can we all be together again healed and whole and renewed. And when will the ugly stain of sin be wiped away forever.
Because right now it hurts. And sometimes I visit those places unwittingly. Sometimes my mind just goes to them, in the twilight of sleep or the early morning. Or when I hear my Pastor call a creek a crick.
But God holds me. He tells me that this longing is really a longing for him, a longing for home. He gently reminds me that we are all passing through. People are broken, but Jesus came so we don’t have to live in that brokenness, or pass that brokenness on to our children.
I came dear child so you could fall asleep in the arms of Jesus with the joyful noise reverberating, without the wasting.
Because Jesus stopped it. The war is won, even in our suffering and pain, even as battles rage around us. Even when my chair is a distant memory, even when the places I love are gone.
Jesus came so that we might all have a place and a table together. A place to gather when our days are done and we are home from and adventures, and break bread and green beans together and laugh and cry over the journey.
And there is beauty there, because that longing is a longing for Jesus, and Jesus is the only fountain that fills and never runs dry.
And one day, it’s his arms we will fall asleep in, and it will be the joyful songs of angels we will hear, and the scent around us will be even more heavenly than Lovespell.
And it will be the pain and death that have wasted away.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21: 3-5