The Scent of Memory

It’s wrong to say I woke to the smell in the pre-dawn light, because mid-April in Anchorage means 15 hours of daylight and the sun was up well before I was. But it was the wee hours of the morning when I woke to a familiar smell. The memory of cold, wood smoke, and the lingering aroma of last night’s fajitas remind me of my grandfather’s house.

There’s a scent missing though. Under the familiar smells the bitter note of coffee is absent. I don’t drink it. I don’t like the smell of fresh coffee, but the fading scent of coffee brewed before dawn and long finished is part of my childhood.

Today, with the chill of winter crawling along the tile floor, the house smells like my grandfather’s in Texas. We always visited him in winter. A quiet Christmas on an island outside Houston where luminaries lined the walkway and chilies hung on the tree. A few years later it was Christmas in lake country outside Austin, with skittish deer leaping over frosted grass. But always the scent of wood smoke, grilled food, and the memory of coffee.

It’s been years since I traveled back to his adopted homeland to visit (grandpa was born somewhere in Europe between the wars… all he remembers is barbed wire and empty trenches). Alaska is too far away for him, although he’d love the views. Texas is a lifetime away from me, a place of blue bonnets and sorrows. But for a moment, in the cold of the morning light, our worlds touch and we share a breath even though we are a world apart.

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