Two smells take me back to the 1960s: cinnamon and chocolate. My mother loved both of these smells. Her grandmother used to make a type of cinnamon candy that she could taste and smell at Christmas time.
So during Christmas our house would fill with these smells. I would sneak a bit from the candy bowl. A few years ago, when I graduated from college as a non-traditional student, my mother sent that bowl to me. In some ways, we have a connection. Both of us knew her grandfather.
Mother described him as a dour man, who worked hard in the fields. Even as a girl, when she moved back to his home after her mother’s divorce, he would till the fields with two horses and a plow. Mother had made a mistake once of putting the wrong harness to the wrong horse. Each horse was used to the harness that had been fitted to them.
When mother got on up on the wagon and slapped the reins, they ran out of control. Grandfather ran after them and stopped the wagon with a whistle. He saved the horses. If they had run into a fence or even into a pole, it would have been the end of the horses and mother.
Once she was off the wagon, grandfather took a stick and gave her a whipping. If you are old enough to harness the horses, he told her. You are old enough to do it right.
He was a water-witch. Folks from miles around would come to him before they dug their wells. He would take a Y stick, hold it lightly in his hands, and it would dip where the water was the near the surface. When folks used him, they didn’t have to dig as far to find fresh water.
I remember hearing the story and trying to practice with the stick. No, I was never good at it.
When I was born, he would sparkle when he held me. By the time I was born, he had several grandchildren, but for some reason he had a connection to me. When my parents left Idaho, he was devastated.
The last time I saw him, I was five years old. He was old and frail in a large bed. I heard my mother’s uncles tell her that he was dying. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. I sat on his bed and sang. He hugged me. When I left the room, I could hear my mother and my great-grandfather talk. It was over.
So yes, cinnamon reminds me of Christmas– And my great-grandfather.