My mom sent me this personal essay she wrote about memory and what people in my family tend to tie to it. Obviously I'm biased, but it's beautifully written and made me more aware of how I bookmark memories - even as I'm making them.
Words by Jo Marchildon
People log memories in different ways. My oldest daughter thinks back to her childhood and associates with the music that was playing in the background. Counting Crows represents her earliest musical thoughts with REM (cfm: I can’t hear “Cuyahoga” without thinking of our drives to Athens as a kid, and “Superman” always reminds me of my mom) being a constant through her life. Needless to say she’s a publicist for Secretly Group - with a passion for good music.
Her sister has always been fascinated with fashion. Her comments on the first day of school as a small child were about what everyone wore. Even today she’ll link events to what she was wearing or what I was wearing. Her memories are much more vivid in that area than mine. (cfm: To this day she’s better at remembering what clothes I have in my closet than I am)
My husband is a little trickier to peg. His early adult memories that I have been a part of seem to be linked to either before Herschel Walker (cfm: that’s the legendary UGA football player) or after. There are similar comments about the Bears, who as a child his family followed avidly.
For me the connective tissue to my past is found in plants. I’m not sure if there are others who have this trait but for me it’s innate. My Grandma lived in eastern Kansas and grew the most beautiful iris. Her fence row was dense with them in different hues, heights and textures. Uncle Billy, her son, took up the iris baton sowing more and nurturing her plantings. They are both survived by their blooms. Great Aunts grew flowering almond and bridal wreath spirea at their home on the hill. Later they would share rootings with Mom and I. Now, years later, they’re growing in Georgia.
My Dad’s mom grew roses. I sent her one from the Jackson and Perkins catalogue when I was old enough. It performed well and I was always proud to see it out of her living room window. Fragrant hyacinths grew in my Mom’s rock garden. Yes her rock garden. It was the ’70s after all. Some plant memories are not good. The pyracantha growing on the side of my parent’s house was, in my view, a bad plant. It inevitably caught our ball as kids and fishing it out of the heavily-thorned branches proved daunting. Needless to say, that’s a plant I’ve never longed to include in my landscape. Today Mom and Dad are more focused on a large vegetable garden than flowering things. (cfm: I recently spent the duration of a phone call with my grandparents lamenting the fact that birds had swooped in on all of their blueberries right before they were prime for picking.)
I could go on and on with the connections over the years between people and plants, but the species that dominated my childhood in the South and truly is my earliest recollection is the Tea Olive. It’s also known by many other names. Osmanthus fragrans or the common names of Tea Olive, Fragrant Olive, Sweet Olive or just Osmanthus are some of its labels. Osmanthus is derived from Greek and means fragrant flower.
Lined up in the breezeway at Covenant Presbyterian Church for kindergarten or Sunday school the fragrance of this sneaky plant would sneak up on me. Even at my age I can remember trying to discover the root of the scent. At first I believed it was an artificial scent from the restrooms. With blooms hidden to draw us into the plant, they could easily go unnoticed. This quintessential fragrance can be readily identified as the edge of fall and the end of summer. While it blooms intermittently from spring on, the big burst of bloom comes at the end of summer. It marks the period of back-to-school, the first football games and the hope of cooler weather. In high school my sister and I shared a VW bug convertible. It was the best car to enjoy the aromas on an evening ride. The Tea Olive didn’t disappoint. Driving home from tennis practice through neighborhoods loaded with perfume was a treat.
As a young adult the Tea Olive became a mainstay in our yard. I was pleased while working with a developer in their Woodstock Downtown project that the landscape design firm chose to use large doses of Tea Olives in their plan. Since the mission was to meld with the historic Main Street community the glorious Tea Olive was another link in that connection. Walking down the Main Street sidewalk the scent could be detected from both the older homes and the new homes. The subtlety of the pairing had been made.
One challenge to my passion for the Tea Olive came in the form of a Golden Retriever named Biscuit (cfm: She looks like a cartoon, which is probably part of self preservation - see below). If you have a retriever of any type you might have a plant eater also. She is particular in regards to the greens she consumes. Her favorites are Tea Olive and Verbena. I proudly planted a large Tea Olive when she was only a few months old. Daily I’d discover the plant either pulled from the ground or leaves and limbs missing. As she grew so did her destruction. Until one day she took it to the ground. The sight that day was a dog with a dirty nose and my poor Tea Olive looking like it had been shredded. Once she was older I replaced it with an orange blooming Tea Olive and she left it to grow.
When our oldest daughter moved into the Boulevard area of Athens, GA while attending UGA we would visit often. I remember walking to dinner from her new place and the scent of the Tea Olive unexpectedly smacking us in the face. There on the side of Barber Street were two huge plants that had joined together over the years. They’d been trimmed to create an archway over the sidewalk to the home. Now our younger daughter lives there and I look forward to seeing (and smelling) these plants on our walks to dinner.
For my birthday this year I was given a new plant. Any guesses what it was? The healthiest Tea Olive loaded with buds. My youngest daughter might be leaning my way as far as plant relationships go. She drove to Lexington, GA from Athens, GA to make the purchase because she saw that I loved this plant.
As I walked my Brittany this morning she seemed to feel fall in the air pointing and hunting the entire way. For me enjoying the mature Tea Olive scent took me back to Albany, GA and Covenant Presbyterian Church.