I love walking past some nearby woods. It makes me feel like I’m on the farm again.
The other day as I walked my dog, a soft breeze blew the distinctive scent of a red cedar. Instantly through the eyes of memory I stood in my parent’s living room between the Christmas tree and the piano.
Startled by the intensity of the memory, tears filled my eyes.
A glimpse of colored lights reflected in the old-fashioned glass ornaments covering the tree. On top of the upright piano all the favorite family photos lovingly displayed amid antique or homemade decorations.
As I allowed my mind to wander unchecked back over the years my thoughts tumbled over each other in a hurry to be noticed. Along with the memories, a variety of emotions vied for attention. Emotions too deep for words to express—family and all it means—the joys and the sorrows. All those intangible things impossible to put into words—all contained within that scent.
Like so many other farm shelterbelts, ours was full of red cedar trees—the solution of a bygone era to stop the topsoil of farm fields from blowing away as they did in the days of the dust bowl.
Our herd of cattle gathered close to the trees to be out of the wind. Songbirds hid within their branches. Rabbits and other small wildlife huddled under the cedar’s low skirts.
Every year we searched those windbreaks for a Christmas tree of the appropriate size. Red cedars are prickly awful things. Their “leaves” and rough bark usually pierced my mittens no matter how carefully I handled them.
Decorating them was an even greater challenge, especially when I clipped the lights onto the branches. I cringed as I remembered how those tiny sharp needles jabbed into my fingers.
The responsibility for decorating those trees often fell to me. My mother said it was because I had an artistic eye—which was kind of her, but truthfully I think she had so much else to do it was a relief to pass on the job. That plus she’d already had her fill of sore fingers.
On one hand I enjoyed putting the ornaments on alone—making all the choices about which objects went where and which remained in the box (some should have been thrown away years ago in my opinion—but you can’t throw away other people’s memories).
On the other hand, it was lonesome to decorate alone. By then my siblings were all in college. No one else shared the joy of looking through the box of history with me or choosing his or her favorites to place on the tree. There was no one to play the game of: Do you remember when?
Some of the ornaments were genuine antiques from my grandparents. Others were the leftover creations of a large family living on a tight budget. I saw beauty in the ingenuity.
After I designed the perfect balance of sizes and colors for the tree, I would wash my hands to remove those awful cedar stickers. It never completely worked. Then I applied lotion and bandages as needed to my sore or bleeding fingers.
The benefit of all that pain came at the end of a long weary day when Mom and I would sit in front of the tree enjoying the serene calmness of the lights. It was our version of a fireplace. We sat in comfortable silence allowing the cares of the day to slip away while we filled our eyes with the simple beauty.
How could the scent of one lone tree stir all that within me? Why were the emotions tied to the memories so strong? Science tells us that the sense of smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers.
Prickly awful things though red cedars are, their scent is amazing. Although I no longer want one in my living room and I’d rather not ever touch one again, I will keep the memories.
So what about you—what scents of Christmas do you remember? Why are they important to you? Share one or two of them in the comments below.
Whether you travel or stay at home, my wish for you is a safe Merry Christmas with those you love.
Until next time…Travel Light,
© 2016 SuZan Klassen