Just a Whiff


Less than three weeks before we were married, Steve came home from a trip across North Africa.  He brought with him a chess set from Morroco.  How proudly I arranged it in our meager little college apartment.  Nestled among thrift store furniture and shag carpet, it was one of the few beautiful things we owned.  

And it was beautiful.  I don’t just mean that it looked beautiful.  It had the most intoxicating smell.  Our whole front room took on its scent of olive wood and lemon oil.  It was redolent with the smell of markets and bartering and warm skin and rough cloth.  In our ordinary days, filled with ordinary worries and work, this exotic creation held court in the corner of our living room.  Not willing to be an idle decoration, it filled the whole room with its presence.

That chess set has had been prominently displayed in each of our homes. People never fail to comment on it and ask about it.  On it, untold numbers of matches have been played with a rotating cast of opponents.  It has been a feature in six different countries by now.  

Sitting beside it today, I realize, with a start, that I no longer smell anything.  I pick up a piece and hold it to my nose.  I can just make out the traces of the scent.  The scent that perfumed the first house we shared.  The scent that colored every game we played on that board.  Somewhere among the two decades of innumerable fingers, packing and unpacking, playing and positioning those pieces, the scent dwindled to almost nothing.  How can that be?

I can’t help but feel that my mothering is just the same.  Everything that was so constant—diapers, late nights, bouncing babies and wiping noses, has somehow dissipated into quiet days, curfew discussions, and piano practicing.  And I realize, with a start, that I’m left with nothing but a gentle wafting of what those early mothering days were made of.

And it isn’t sad, exactly.  But it is a bit of a melancholy.  It is a feeling that leaves me all filled up, instead of empty. 

I hold the Rook to my nose, just one more time.  To see if it will transport me to a college apartment where a brand new mother watches her baby crawl across orange shag carpet.