Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Smell (the sense of smell) (07/29/10)
TITLE: Inhale Deeply At Your Own Risk
By Mariane Holbrook
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Lilacs. Purple and white lilacs with a scent more overpowering than almost any other flower. At least they were to me, an eight year old whose curiosity was exceeded only by my courage.
Who else in our neighborhood dared to pick a bouquet from a lilac bush belonging to our neighborhood grouch to give to a beloved third grade teacher? Miss Burdick’s lilacs were in full bloom two weeks before anyone else’s. My mistake was in picking them all from one spot in the front of the bush. Mama dutifully administered my usual spanking after an irate phone call from the ever-vigilant Miss Edwina Burdick.
But one day lilacs took on a different meaning for me. When we returned home after a weekend at Grandma’s farm in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, our lilacs were in spectacular bloom.
When we opened the car door I could smell them from large bushes on the far side of our house.
I broke off several beautiful lilac sprays, inhaling deeply, and carried them inside to place the bouquet in an empty Bell canning jar full of water. I loved those lilacs like no other flower.
Suddenly a staccato knock on the front door sent four of the seven children in our burgeoning family scurrying to see who was there.
It was my friend, Bertha, and she was crying. Hard.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Bertha sobbed. “Our baby twin boys died this morning while you were gone.”
Mama was already at the front door and put her arms around Bertha. She motioned me to come with her while she escorted Bertha back home across the street.
Mama didn’t know Mrs. Babcock well since the family had only lived in their very modest rental house for about six months. You could call them poor, I guess, but then again, none of us were exactly bursting our way through the seams of financial prosperity.
The only time I’d been inside Bertha’s house was the day she invited me to stay for supper. Her paper-thin mother looked at us with a mixture of confusion and anxiety.
“We don’t have very much but you’re welcome to stay,” Mrs. Babcock finally offered. “We’re having cold sliced potato and onion sandwiches.
“Oh, that’s okay,” I volunteered. “We usually don’t have much either. And I love potato and onion sandwiches.” Both statements were untrue. But I rationalized that, in this case at least, God would forgive me for rearranging the truth for compassionate purposes.
On this day, Mrs. Babcock met us on the front porch which had been enclosed and made into a sort of living room. She was wringing her hands and weeping.
Mama put her arm around Mrs. Babcock’s thin shoulders. “I’m so sorry about the loss of your babies. What can we do? We want to help.”
Mama and Mrs. Babcock began making a list:
Money for Luckner’s Funeral Home where the babies are
White burial clothing
Food and flowers from the neighborhood
Cash for the family since Mr. Babcock was still out of work
Call our pastor about conducting the funeral
Ask if our church could donate a cemetery plot
Call Jason at the newspaper to see if he would write a story
Promising to return in two hours, Mama hugged Mrs. Babcock and raced home.
She sent my two older sisters and me to every home in the neighborhood, asking the mothers to meet at our house in thirty minutes for an emergency meeting. (Mama wasn’t called “The Drama Queen” for nothing!)
Every mother on our street came. The funeral was set for two days hence in the funeral home chapel. Mrs. Babcock insisted that the babies be brought back home and placed in the living room for the public viewing. When I saw their tiny translucent bodies lying in the white, satin-lined casket, I cried.
No one in this post Great Depression year could afford Florists’ sprays. The only flowers in bloom in the neighborhood were lilacs so everyone brought a bouquet of lilac blossoms in canning jars. I counted thirty jars.
But the fragrance that I’d always loved became so overpowering in that small, warm room crammed with people, that I exited the house and ran home, retching and gagging!
My headache lasted all day and I missed school. The next day, when I returned, Daddy sent a note to my teacher:
“Reason for Mariane’s absence: Sensory delight overload.”
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