Joy smells like daffodils. Sweet and lingering, with an underlying depth – like a promise yet to be fulfilled.
Just as the whiff of a stranger’s cologne reminds me of a long-lost love, or the waft of tobacco smoke brings to mind a distant uncle, the scent of daffodils causes me to remember a special man. As I breathe in that delicate sweetness I am linked, just for a moment, to all my joyful memories of him.
Daffodils remind me of my Grandfather.
We called him “Opa-met-de-kale-haartjes,” Dutch for “Grandpa-with-the-bald-hair.” Mattheus was a renowned bulb grower in Holland, specialising in the cultivation of daffodils.
One of my favourite photos of my Grandfather shows him standing in a field of daffodils, holding a small bunch of the flowers in his weathered hands. One look at his face and you know that he is completely content. Opa’s passion was daffodils.
My Grandfather grew 450 different varieties of daffodil on his farm and was respected as an expert in his field, writing articles for journals and speaking at international events. Once, he paid thousands of guilders for a handful of rare daffodil bulbs.
As a child, however, I did not know all this. What I did know is how much my sister and I loved spending time with him. Since we lived in South Africa, we only saw our Grandparents every few years, but what a celebration we had when we were reunited!
To begin with, they would arrive laden with delicious Dutch goodies – salt liquorice and other delicacies that we couldn’t buy in Johannesburg. In addition, Opa would declare that “the money was burning holes in his pockets,” and would take us out for treats, including the biggest delight of all – coke floats.
Opa loved spending time with us. He would let us clamber all over him, swim with us and tell us stories. Best of all, he would allow us to play with his hair. There wasn’t much of it – just a small halo at the base of his head, but he let us comb and even put curlers into it. Everything we did brought a smile to his face.
He lived life joyfully. His eyes, when not already lit up by a smile, held a note of mischief – as if he was thinking of a joke or planning a prank. Everywhere he went, he made friends. Business contacts grew into life-long friendships, often spanning over the following generations.
Not only did he love flowers, but he treasured all of God’s creation. I recall slipping out of bed just as the first light seeped through the darkness, to find him sitting silently in our garden, listening to the birds’ welcoming the dawn. We would often visit the Kruger National Park with him, staying over in traditional round huts and allowing Opa to enjoy African wildlife in all its splendour.
With each farewell we had to say, I had the sense that Opa left a little piece of his heart on our beautiful continent.
My Grandfather was eventually struck with Parkinson’s disease. He resented its physical limitations for it threatened to keep him away from what he loved so dearly - his farm and flowers. Even when he could hardly walk anymore, he would still stubbornly insist on going to check on the fields, one time even riding there on his bicycle.
I clearly remember my last joyful reunion with Opa. He was sitting in a wheel-chair, holding the biggest bunch of flowers I have ever seen. I was eighteen and had just landed at Schipol airport, where he and my aunt were waiting to welcome me. The only thing larger than the bouquet of flowers was his smile.
Opa imparted so much into my life. He taught me how important it is to find your passion and follow it wholeheartedly. His love of nature flows through my veins too. I watched him enjoy the simple, wonder-filled moments of life: playing with your grandchildren; giving generously; laughing with a friend; savouring the fragrance of flowers.
He understood what made life precious. I don’t believe it was a co-incidence that my father and mother were visiting from South Africa and that he was surrounded by all his children, on the day he peacefully slipped away. He was content.
Yes, joy smells like daffodils. Like coke floats and liquorice. Like the grass thatch of African ‘rondavels.’
And after this one final farewell is the promise, still to be fulfilled, of our most joyful reunion yet.
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