They say that smell can bring back memories more strongly than any other sense, and I’m inclined to agree. Many times I’ve been stopped in my tracks by a familiar scent wafting past my nose, disoriented for a moment by a feeling of being drawn backward in time. For just an instant, it’s like revisiting the past. It’s an unsettling, though not unpleasant, phenomenon—one I’ve experienced many times and often witnessed in others. I’m especially struck by how the smell and taste of a fresh vegetable harvest can bring out the people’s most vivid memories—you can see it in their eyes and in their smiles. Whenever I see this happen, I remember a particular harvest, more than forty years ago.
Ted’s father, Harry—we called him Grandpa Hole after Bill was born—was a plumbing contractor—a tough, no-nonsense man. But he had many other characteristics. He was an unrepentant practical joker, with a deeply introspective side that revealed itself only rarely. During the winter of 1954, he became desperately ill, his trademark vitality sapped by disease. One morning, late in the spring, my mother-in-law called to say she was planning to cook a piece of lamb, his favourite meal. Even though it was awfully early in the season, she hoped I might be able to find some fresh peas, because they were his favourite vegetable.
That, I think, was the signal that the end was approaching, the admission that Grandpa Hole’s last days had arrived. I told Grandma Hole that I would do my best. I pulled on a sweater, picked up a basket, and went out to look.
It was a cool, misty morning, with the tiniest bit of drizzle. The moment I left the house, the scents of the garden began to draw me back to the times when Grandpa Hole would come out to visit the farm. He would wander out into the fields, alone, find a spot, and just stand there, becoming part of the landscape. He’d put his hands on his hips and inhale the fresh, clean air, reveling in the innocent atmosphere of the land, not worrying about his business or anything else.
As I entered the garden, I could almost see him there, standing in the field wearing his favourite suit, bathed in orange and yellow light as the sun peeked over the horizon.
I checked the first vine I found and caught a glimpse of several pods glistening with dew, barely ready to be picked. I opened one of the pods for a sample and popped a few into my mouth. To this day I remember how those peas tasted—fresh and cold, sweet and juicy. The garden was lush with peas, and I realized it was giving me an extraordinary, priceless gift.
Ted’s dad got his dinner, roast lamb with fresh peas and mint sauce. He ate every bite, exclaiming what a treat it was to have a home-cooked meal, complete with garden vegetables. In his eyes I could see the memories of happier days. I like to imagine he was thinking about those quiet times in our field, enjoying being one with the land.
Three weeks later, he died peacefully.
Compared with everything Grandpa Hole did for me and my family, that meal seems like such a tiny gesture. I think, though, that he truly appreciated the memories that the taste and smell of those vegetables brought back. I know I will never cherish another harvest as I did that basket of peas, and I know that whenever I want to revisit days past, all I need to do is walk in my garden.
-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer