family relationships

Scents of Another's Presence...

Today, I went to Mom's home. This past week, she and my sister took her elderly cat to the veterinarian. Bessie had lost fur along her spine, was eating more sporadically, and sleeping longer. At the vet's office, they discovered Bessie had lost four pounds and would require two shots of insulin each day. 

She invited me to come over and help her clean, get cat fur and dust out of her bedroom.

We lost Dad last year after he'd been dealing with his illness for the past three years. And now she's lost Bessie.

We took down curtains to wash. We took down blinds to wipe off. Mom had already stripped the bed and had her quilt ready for the laundromat after Bessie had spit up on it. Her wash machine was too small for it. And we carried out the boxes from under the bed and the dresser that sat next to the bed.

Their bedroom is small and the head of the bed is up on blocks but we stood the mattress and the box spring against the wall. Then we could move the bedframe. I vacuumed while Mom dusted and wiped items off out in the kitchen and living room. 

And as I detached the hose so that I could vacuum the edge of the carpet along the wall at the head of the bed, all of a sudden I could smell Dad's cologne. 

It was a strong and it made me happy to smell it again. 

When we took a break, I mentioned it to Mom. She has not smelled his cologne in their bedroom. We teased one another, saying that he was being nosy and checking out what we were doing.

Later, after we had put the bed back together, I worked on the closet, pulling everything out so I could give it a good vacuum. And then again, as I worked with the vacuum hose to clean the carpet right next to the wall, I could smell Dad's cologne. 

As I drove home today, I thought about it. The smell of dust should have been stronger than Dad's scent. 


But last week, I had thought, wouldn't it be lovely if we could visit with Dad for a day. Just to visit. Just to let him know how much we love him, how much we miss him, and it's good to see him again. 


Book Review


This story, My Name is Lucy Barton, written by Elizabeth Strout, ©October 2016, has several time-braids in it.

  • We see Lucy as a young girl living with her family in an uncle’s garage, and after he dies, in his small home, and learning at school that she is different, shunned, because a life of poverty doesn’t teach social skills.
  • We see Lucy in the hospital in New York, a young married woman and mother, needing an extended stay after a routine surgery and the relationship that exists between her and Mom.
  • We see bits of Lucy as a newly married, adjusting to life in New York, and developing the odd friendships that she’s able to manage.
  • We see allusions to issues of abuse and neglect, family dysfunction and loneliness.
  • And we see references to Lucy’s future self, a published author, from which this story is told.

It’s a slender book, a complex story that in some ways remains elusive. There is direct naming and there is that which is not said, which is not spoken

But there are times, too--unexpected--when walking down a sunny sidewalk, or watching the top of a tree bend in the wind, or seeing a November sky close down over the East River, I am suddenly filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep that a sound might escape from my mouth, and I will step into the nearest clothing store and talk with a stranger about the shape of sweaters newly arrived. This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not,

The book stirred feelings in me: curiosity first, wondering if this author could keep my interest. Then gradually, I was caught up in Lucy’s life. Sometimes I would be deeply immersed in Lucy’s point-of-view and then other times the camera lens backed away and distanced itself from knowing Lucy too completely.

The focus of the story is Lucy’s relationship with Mom. We read of tenderness, of half-asked questions, and we witness love in all its faultiness expressed through human limitations.