The November snow drifted slowly to the road as I drove home from church.
“Hank, do you smell lilacs,” my wife asked breaking the silence.
I took in a big breath, and smelled the sweetened air, not exactly lilacs more like my Aunt Lana’s perfume and nodded. Suddenly, my memory was whisked back to a time when I was a little boy and of the many happy memories with my Aunt Lana.
Svetlana Romanofsky was my father’s eldest sister. She always had a smile on her face, a contagious laugh and worked her land with in an infinite amount of energy.
Aunt Lana lived on a farmette on the outskirts of town. When my mother had to take a job in my fifth year, I went to Aunt Lana’s during summer break.
I’ll always remember my first day at her house. I was a very shy child and even though Aunt Lana went to church and ate Sunday dinner with us every week, seeing her in her farm work clothes made me afraid and I grabbed my father by the hand before he could leave. We all sat for breakfast, but before the toast had popped Aunt Lana had me laughing and talking and I never realized my dad had left for work.
Aunt Lana taught me how to feed the chickens and gather the eggs. I would sit on a stool beside her work sink in the garage watching her wash the eggs, illuminate them for blood and cracks and sort them by size. The bad eggs she would add to the dog food. “We waste nothing on the farm” was one of her favorite quotes.
My first year at church camp, I made her a bird feeder during arts and crafts. Aunt Lana loved to watch the birds from her back porch. It looked more like a condemned shanty than a feeder, but she proudly hung it in her dwarf pear tree and kept it full. When I started working and making my own money, I bought her a new deluxe feeder for Christmas. I had to smile on my next visit, when I saw the new feeder hanging on the tree limb in the backyard right beside the one I had made her.
In my early teens, I helped my father build her a fruit and vegetable stand at the end of her lane so she no longer had to go door-to-door in town to sell her eggs, vegetables and fruit. She allowed me to run the stand. Each morning I would load the wagon with fresh fruits and vegetables and at noon she would bring lunch and more produce and eggs. We would eat lunch together and talk. By then, I was of age to stay home during the summer break, but chose to keep going to Aunt Lana’s.
My Aunt Lana was a strong woman, physically and in faith. She was a WAC in WW II, widowed young, and lost her only child in Vietnam. The only time I saw my Aunt Lana cry was after I graduated from college. I drove her home Sunday evening. Tomorrow I was moving a thousand miles away for my new job. When I stopped in front of her house, she gave me a hug that just about squeezed the life from me and kissed me on the cheek. I felt warm tears on my cheek and her body slightly shook, then she quickly got out of the car and walked into her house without saying a word. The smell of her perfume lingered in my car on the entire ride pack to my parent’s house.
As I drove into the garage I said, “I’m sorry honey. I smell it too. Not lilacs, but my Aunt Lana’s perfume. It brought back a lot of memories I hadn’t thought about in years. I guess I wandered for a few minutes.”
We walked into the kitchen and I noticed the light flashing on the answering machine. I hit the play button. “Hank, this is your mother. I have some sad news. Aunt Lana passed away this morning. Your father found her lying across the bed, fully dressed for church. Please call back. Your father is very upset.”
I looked at my wife with tears running down my cheeks and with a slight smile I said, “I think Aunt Lana visited us in the car this morning on her way to heaven.”
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