The photograph is the view my mother loved from the bedroom window. Looking straight ahead it is the view of Dartmoor looking straight over Oakhampton, Devon, UK.
The Smells of Home
Home was high on a hill in the middle of nowhere; a tiny village placed like a currant on the side of a Christmas pudding, snow looked like white sauce running down the sides. Cyclists viewed our hill as a serious challenge to be conquered. The only excitement in the village was in April when the warm west winds of spring arrived and we all looked out for the first swallows migrating here. From the conservatory at the back of the house, we could see for many miles towards the brooding moors of Dartmoor. Driving home from work every night in my little MX5 I could feel the change in the air. Then there was a deep green, sharp tang you could taste that made you feel alive. My Mother loved this house, once she had seen it she kept coming back to visit. One day she ended up coming to visit permanently. She was dying.
On the day she invited herself to stay, it was a beautiful sunny day. The house was south facing so the sun shone into the back bedrooms where the oak floorboards heated up and gave of a warm smell of honey and beeswax. She was moving in and deciding which room to have ‘This is the room’ said my mother finally choosing a room at the back of the house which was south facing and got all the sun ‘I’ll move into this room,’ and she did.
It was after this that our house became a home. There was a constant stream of people, doctors and nurses to see Mum. Friends crossed continents to visit and they would look out of her bedroom window at the landscape and say ‘Aren’t you lucky to have this view it’s stunning? Those moors are amazing.’ My Mother would murmur that this was evidence of God,
‘What view, what God? I never have time to sit and look out at it.’ I would say to myself. I seemed to spend all of my time in the kitchen making cups of tea, meals, washing. I was beginning to feel resentful of these people taking my Mother and the view away from me but then I slowly began to realise that she was slipping away from me anyway.
The days passed quietly by and in a warm blue-sky summer the swallows flitted happily in and out of the rafters on our roof, swifts and house martins joined them. In late chilly August mornings I loved the early morning mists that looked like lakes in the valley, the rooks and crows would fly around and play tag, they looked like bits of black rag throwing themselves into a breeze. The house smelled of roses and disinfectant now. Oddly, it wasn’t too bad a smell, I was getting used to it.
Autumn blew in and I obsessively watched the skies for the first swallows to go. I hated it when they went, it was a symbol of a season passing. I could hear the grandfather clock ticking because it was so quiet. The house had the aroma of roses, disinfectant and healthy soups. I was encouraging her to eat; she loved the smell of the soups more than the taste.
One day I sadly realised the swallows were migrating, Mum was slowly migrating too, and the nurses now came to visit her every day. Now the house had a tropical, spicy aroma of pineapple, this was the only thing she could have to wet her lips.
A smoky blue October arrived and the house was filled with the sweet scent of ash wood burning in the stove. I was making soups for family who came to say their sad farewells to Mum. We seemed to be saying goodbye to everything. On a clear, frosty, sparkling night, Mum finally passed peacefully away. It wasn’t sad at all. There had been the most fantastic sunrise that morning which had seemed quite symbolic but now as I stood in the frosty garden gazing at Orion in the inky black night sky - I felt reassured that the constellation was here again.
After the funeral, I went back to our house. It was empty now. I tried to imagine the perfumes of roses and pineapple and soups…I couldn’t, they’d gone. I was lost, the house still smelt of honey and beeswax though and then I thought that now was a time to make some new smells of home.