The littles and I went to visit our “Pirate” at my alma mater–her college today.
I am not old enough to have a daughter in college. Seriously.
When I started school and began first grade, I had Mrs. Partain and Mrs. Crouch. Most of my time was spent with Mrs. Partain. Everyday before I left for school, Daddy would tease me and say, “I’m not old enough to have a daughter in first grade. You need to tell your teacher that.” And every afternoon when he came home, he asked, “Did you tell your teacher I’m not old enough to have a daughter in first grade?” And everyday I said no. Until one day in the spring, I surprised him. I answered, “Yes.” When he got over the shock, he asked what she had said. “She laughed.” Which made him laugh too.
He was 31. Way younger than this Mama of a college student.
We wandered around the campus. Do I miss it? Yes. I told my oldest last night that I would so “Freaky Friday” her in a heartbeat. Those were good days. (Only I probably didn’t recognize it each and every day.)
It’s home. So many landmarks. So many memories. The fountain I got thrown into every birthday I had my four years there and when I was engaged. (My friends weren’t crazy or mean–it’s a tradition.) And the place where my husband and I married almost twelve years ago. The window to my freshman dorm room (turns out it was across the hall from where our resident ghost hung out–I did NOT know that at the time–thank goodness), my sophomore dorm room, and the manhole cover I’d always walk over because I like to hear the echo. The window to the office of our favorite professor, who was known to poke his head out if he heard us calling. The building where I learned how to fail and try again. The pond where I rode the paddleboat with a classmate from India and she read my palm. I could go on and on with the memories. They’re all still there.
As we were heading back to our girl’s dorm and maybe for a walk by the pond, it hit me. That smell. I sniffed again. Intently. I turned around.
“What are you doing, ‘Dre?” she asked.
“Tea olive. I smell tea olive.” As I turned completely around I saw it. It was so big I had dismissed it as being a tea olive. We went over and soaked it in.
There is NO smell I love better on this earth than the smell of a tea olive. Except for maybe a clean baby smell. I don’t know, it might be a tie. I wish I could bottle it up and take it everywhere with me.
Years ago Daddy planted one at the house, Blackberry Flats. The first time it blossomed and I smelled it, I found myself drawn to it, soaking it in. I told Daddy that I hoped Heaven smells just like that. It is the most perfect scent there is on God’s green earth. Hands down.
When we moved to our house here, there was one planted on the side of the house. I just noticed it blooming the other day. The scent hits you first as the blossoms are tiny. Then you see them. Precious. In the midst of all the chaos of the past year, my wise gardener friend brought me one, knowing how much I love them, and planted it where I can smell it from the rocker on my porch.
When Daddy died, we were so fortunate to have a kind and witty and compassionate funeral home director work with us. She asked about a spray. We had no idea but knew that Daddy wouldn’t have wanted anything fancy. She suggested we take cuttings from greenery at the house to the florist to be worked into it. I remember well that crisp fall day, my Aunt and I out cutting small branches from the cedar that had come from their parent’s farm over thirty years ago and from that tea olive. It turned out beautifully and it meant so much. Daddy had planted and tended to both of those trees over the years.
So it was that in March of last year, on Daddy’s birthday, our first without him here, Mama and the crew and I took Daddy’s shovels and went out to the little country church where they both are buried now, and we dug a hole and planted a tea olive there. It was not an easy task–us and the shovels vs. Georgia red clay. I spent a whole lot of time getting to know that tea olive last year. Mama saved her milk jugs, and she or I would haul eight gallons out there twice a week to water it all through the dry summer. I spent a lot of time out there pouring water into the big bucket with slow draining holes my wise gardener friend had loaned us. As I poured I talked to Daddy. The conversations were private, but suffice to say, there weren’t always happy and grace-filled. There were times I just wanted to lay down out there and give up, I missed him so much. There were days the sky was filled with angry clouds gathering, but much like me, they were all talk and no rain fell, so still I watered. I knew how to look for new growth on the tree because my Daddy had taught me, so I was pleased when I saw some, and I pointed it out to him.
I love the smell of a tea olive. I think I may have to go out there and see how it’s doing. I haven’t worried much about it with all this rain we’ve had this summer. And it’s seemed harder to go out there lately. But if there’s the promise of blossoms and that smell, well, that might just change everything.
I hope the smell will bring comfort to my children just as it has for me. And maybe my oldest will find herself walking out of her way to sniff the tree that very likely was planted about the time I was there, oh-quite-some-time-ago. And I think that would be just fine. It is my hope that she too will take root there and grow and hopefully bless the world as she blossoms into who she is becoming. I’m already seeing new growth in her too. And though it’s not easy, what follows, just like the scent of the tea olive, will be downright beautiful and worth every bit of the effort. I promise.