The Scent Of Christmas Caught Me By Surprise


There is a chain of markets in Florida called Publix.  It’s employee-owned and from what I read in the local paper, Wal-Mart hates them.

But that’s another story.

I was browsing the aisles in my local Publix for some fruit to put in my cereal.  I found blueberries but they’re from Peru.  Don’t they grow them here?  Everything else grows here.

It was dark when I walked out through the front doors and into the intense and surreal humidity that I’ve come to love and cherish.  Across Summerlin Rd., the Christmas lights twinkled from the Royal Palm trees at the Outlet Mall.  Something struck my olfactory senses.  I skidded to a halt, maybe a little too close to the bell ringing Salvation Army Santa.

It was the scent that stopped me.  I closed my eyes.  Suddenly, I was back in Manhattan, walking down Broadway in the upper 80’s.  The taxis and trucks are driving through the slush of a December snow.  I walk passed a Christmas tree vendor.  There are fifty trees, probably from Maine, bundled and stacked, waiting to be purchased for $75.00 and taken back to a small apartment.  Taken back to give a little room a little holiday cheer, to disperse the loneliness, to make the Toddy or the Merlot go down smoothly.  Turn off the overhead light and plug in the pin lights.  Arrange the bulbs so that they blink randomly.  Put on a Bing Crosby CD.  Look out the window and down at the street.  The shoppers, the packages, the tinsel, the pools of icy water backed up at the street crossings.  The parents and the children.  A window with a Menorah.

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas…” 

I’m back in Owego, New York and I’m a child again.  Snow was never a problem when I was young…the more the better.  But the scent of the balsam, the fir, the pines…these were the smells of the North, of Canada, of the Adirondacks, of downtown Owego, the “cut-your-own” tree farms outside Newark Valley.  It was the smell of my living room at 420 Front Street.  If we had a fire burning in the fireplace, if the thermostat was turned up (which it never was), it didn’t matter.  If you stuck your nose among the branches of the tree, you smelled the cold.  A curious mix of senses…smell and feel.  There was the wood-smoke from the chimneys, from the bonfires at the Brick Pond where we skated on frigid December nights.  We skated, the kids from my neighborhood and beyond.  I skated alone.  I skated with my friends.  I skated with my girlfriend, Mary.  Other nights, our class at St. Patrick’s would go caroling at the “old folks home”.  We’d walk to a classmate’s house where a pleasant mom in a beige apron would serve us hot chocolate and oatmeal cookies.  I wasn’t beyond pocketing a chocolate chip cookie for later when I hid under my covers in the chilly bedroom.

Our cheeks stayed rosey until March.

Suddenly, I felt the humidity again.  I opened my eyes.  I wasn’t facing Broadway.  I was not walking down Main Street behind a nun whose long black habit collected the snow flakes at her forbidden ankles.  I was in my present time and space.  I was in Fort Myers and I was standing next to a Christmas trees that was for sale.  We barely have room in the r-Pod for a beach towel so a tree would be out of the question.

There is my car, the Ford Escape with the Thule bike rack on the roof.  At least it’s red, like Santa’s suit and Rudolph’s nose.

This holiday is going to be pretty much in my mind.  I’ve yet to get used to inflatable Christmas lawn ornaments on an island like Sanibel.  I’ve yet to accept a sunny warm beach on the Gulf of Mexico and knowing it’s approaching the Winter Solstice.  Orion is rising in the night sky.  At least I don’t have to put on a parka to look up at constellations.  Then I remember that the original Christmas Day, (if you accept the December 25th date), occurred in the Middle East.  There were palm trees along the route of the Three Wise Men.

We’ll have Christmas Eve dinner at a nice restaurant called the Lighthouse.  We will each unwrap a present the next day.  I’ll put my Bing Crosby CD into the stereo.

“Where the tree tops glisten and the children listen…to hear sleigh bells in the snow…”

The place pulls at me.  The smell sets off a reverie.  But, in the end, Christmas is in the heart.

3 comments on “The Scent Of Christmas Caught Me By Surprise

  1. Dara Reidyr says:

    My brother lives in Florida. Yes, Publix, are everywhere!


  2. Diane Szlucha says:

    Very sweet memories, Pat. I think that tree belongs outside of your RV Pod and you should sit by it each night and listen to Christmas carols. Build another memory. And the stepping into the hot humid air brought me right back to the beautiful winter nights we have been in Florida and the joy of the warm air I so love in the evening!!


  3. pjlhughes says:

    I too remember the snow when it was fun. Right now too warm for snow up here in the north. Hope it stays that way.


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