As my response to last week’s photography prompt by WordPress’ The Daily Post ~~ Temporary~~ am sharing here this photo of a round platter of colorful, varied pungent yet tasty fita bread sauces, which we recently came upon and enjoyed at a Persian-inspired restaurant. Because of its savory taste and aroma, it was gone as soon as it was set on the table.
My hallowed past is like a chest full of memories. Each recollection neatly wrapped in scented layers, hidden beneath the pages of the here-and-now, folded carefully in the hollows of my mind.
They just lay there, until a refrain from an old song, or the aroma of a traditional chicken soup being cooked next door prompts one or two to come unbidden. Or as fallen leaves, on a dry summer day, that gather around my feet – they bring me back to some favorite or hidden nook of my childhood, my cherished thoughts of yesterday.
Like an old chest, some memories linger almost forgotten, but never discarded. Just like images of my Mom when I was still a child.
First, let me tell you my Mom is well into her mid-80’s, yet still carrying her regal beauty with aplomb, that neither the passage of time nor the deadly cancer cells in her can ever mar. And all I can conjure up of her is the kind of woman that has grown before my eyes through all these years: sturdy yet soft, strong yet fragile, prayerful, and lives with unwavering faith in God.
But one of my vivid images of her today is her penchant for collecting, never discarding, her old stuff. Stuff that she has gathered – gifts and tokens from each of us her beloved children, grandchildren, her siblings and my Dad – as well as all the things she herself had bought from way back when she was yet much able to visit any mall she liked.
You see my Mom, the quintessential compulsive shopper she used to be, has amassed a large collection of whatever took her fancy during any of her shopping visits – whether she would wear or use them, that was not the point of buying. Buying something delighted her like a child out to buy a new toy.
Then, on special family occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, or simply home gatherings on some weekends – until today, she retreats to her room and brings each grandchild, myself included, a token – from her collection.
Yet other things she cannot bestow on any of us, nor throw away as yet. Thus, her room is one big treasure chest, or a museum of memorabilia, or a one- of- a-kind gallery, call it what you may.
Now, back to my own chest of faded memories, as I lift the veil of my distant childhood — one by one — like the scent of lavender, each fragment of my Mom comes drifting into my present:
Mom nestled close to me as I opened my eyes one birthday morning when I was 6 or 7, waiting for me to awaken so she could be the first to greet me;
my Mom speaking to me, one time I was still in grade school, and saying, “Marichu, you are bright, intelligent” and on several occasions, still when I was in elementary, my Mom telling me, “Marichu, you may be brown-skinned, but you can also be a Miss International; you have beautiful complexion!” Mom’s complexion is fair;
Mom teaching me to sing, or encouraging me to read more books, and ingraining in me the love for books. She’d often say we already had a complete home library, for we had the Bible, a big volume of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and the Dictionary;
Mom, together with Dad, teaching me and my siblings to pray;
Mom regaling my grandparents, and other relatives on their regular home visits to us, with stories about each of us her children;
Then vividly comes the most enduring impression I had of my Mom when I was young – that of a fully dedicated homemaker – doting wife and mother – who almost always spent her time doing chores, teaching us later to do some of those, cooking, sewing in her machine, or crocheting, dish-gardening or pot-planting – never leaving us at home except when she and Dad had to go out.
Then there is her special scent, of well-coiffed hair, manicured nails, a mist of fragrance, for even if she was just at home she would never be seen with hair unkempt and face unpolished – for that was the very first thing she did after breakfast, before doing the rounds in the house, to prep herself up;
In between, I still see her seated at the head of the dining table, composing poems for my Dad while he was still at the office.
One by one, all these fragments come alive again, each evoking a certain fragrant feeling. Much like when you dig into your chest of knick-knacks you’ve shoved into a corner, or attic or closet to revisit its contents, you await with anticipation the things you’ll rediscover as you shake off the musty smell of yesteryears.
Likewise as I get caught in that reminiscing, my heart leaps with joy, until the floodgates of tears break open, and I want to run back into the arms that held me when I was young, to grasp the hand that combed my hair into a ponytail day after day for school, to hear again the quiet voice that spoke encouraging words.
Precious childhood memories I have of my Mom I will always cling to no matter how half-forgotten they may be, strengthening, affirming, comforting me.
So going back to my Mom in the present time, I surmise the reason she cannot throw or give away her old stuff is because each is a piece of precious memory, almost forgotten but never to be discarded — each object bearing a lingering image or smell or voice or smile of the person who gave her that.
I now realize her need to cling to the memory of the person behind a favorite shawl or blouse or bag so much so that it pains her to be torn away from the sight or mere presence of it. Her room filled with stuff is her treasure chest of love, the comfort zone to which she can run in order to reconnect with her cherished past, and from which she can continue connecting with the present, creating threads of memories with each one of us.