Memories smell like Albuquerque

Memories smell like Albuquerque

Incense is wonderful for covering up the smell of eau du litter box--much better than canned "Fresh Scent." Because my kitties shit a lot, I had to order more incense. Amazon didn't have sandalwood in stock, so I ordered cedar incense bricks.

Normally, I like to smell things before buying, but I figured that if it was made in Albuquerque, it should be okay.

It came yesterday, and it smells like Albuquerque.

It smells like Great Grandma and bread and butter pickles and Sandies.

It smells like the early morning, before it gets hot. It smells like mountain rain that fills the arroyos. It smells like singed thighs on a metal slide, before they replaced it with a plastic one. It smells like her prickly grass, nearly as sharp as the cactus in the pot that once deflated one of my balls.

It smells like the butterscotch trees Mom found on a mountain walk that we rubbed and put our noses to.

It smells like my siblings' August sweat and deodorant because we always visited in the hottest month of the year. It smells of sunscreen and bug spray and infant formula.

It smells like the incense room in a shop in Old Town Albuquerque, hidden behind all the tchotchkes and mass-produced howling wolves and personalized names on plastic yellow New Mexico license plate keychains. Mom always bought incense here, and my brother and I would pester her to light it up at home. She'd hold a cedar brick to a match until it finally lit, and never burned her fingers. Even when she put the lit brick in its holder, and put the pastel pueblo house over it. My brother and I danced our fingers in the smoke streaming out of the chimney.

We only lit it when Dad was at work so it could clear out before he came home. We remembered Albuquerque, longing for our next visit, waiting until we can drive past the giant red arrow again on the way to her house. Paul Bunyan's arrow.

It smelled like Great Grandma's sister, Aunt Leora's apartment, which had display horses she would let us play with, and a funny lever with a string that would call an attendant if Aunt Leora pulled it.

It smelled like Great Grandpa, who couldn't hear very well, like me. When he died, it smelled like his old easy chair that we didn't want to use, because it was still his chair, with the oil-stained embroidered cloth still draped over the headrest.

The incense smells like Mom. Like playgrounds, her hugs, and snickerdoodle cookies and pleasant memories that make my heart swell and grieve.

They are the memories I hold, even as I remember loss and Mom's choice to disown me because she, always passive, obeyed Dad. I remember my aunt telling me not to tell Great Grandma what happened. Afraid to "break her heart" because history repeated itself, I haven't talked to Great Grandma since 2008.

Which is when I last smelled cedar incense from Albuquerque.

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