I sank down on the edge of my bed, holding the pile of fresh towels, still warm from the dryer, and buried my face in them. I inhaled the fresh, spicy scent deeply, and exhaled shakily, tears threatening at the back of my throat. My girl wandered in, looking for the cats. I held the towels out to her and said, “Hey, Baby Bear, what does this smell remind you of?” She gave me the kind of look only a nearly-ten-year-old girl can manage, the one that says You’re acting sooo weird, but she leaned in and sniffed. She looked up at me, quirked her eyebrows in thought, then leaned in for another whiff of the fragrant towels. She straightened up, wrinkled her nose and said, “Umm, I don’t know…” paused, then slowly, “Daddy?”
She did know.
He’s been gone from us for two and a half years, but there are still smells and tastes and sounds that bring him close to us.
Like a new brand of dryer sheets that I picked up on a whim at the store. The dryer sheets that smell a lot like Kevin’s favorite Brooks Brothers cologne.
An icy-cold Dr. Pepper at a baseball game, or a Snickers bar at Halloween. He always picked through the bowl before the trick-or-treaters arrived to get all the Snickers out. And as soon as our girl got finished trick-or-treating, she’d dump out her haul and immediately pass over all the Snickers to her Daddy.
The Sunday afternoon sound of a football game on TV, background noise to whatever else was going on in the house.
I struggle some days, worried that someday her memories of him might fade. She was seven when he died – a first grader – and it hit me the other day that she’s nearly ten now. Somehow, she became a fourth-grader, and soon she’ll be a young lady. How did that happen, and why can’t her Daddy be here to see it? My memories of him are so vivid, but are hers? She’s got a magnificent brain, it’s truly amazing to see her mind work but, like she says, “If I remember it, I remember it forever. But if I don’t, I just don’t.”
I don’t want her Daddy to fall into the “I just don’t” pile.
So I stock up on the new dryer sheets, hoping to engrain that scent in her mind, to associate it with her Daddy. And I fall asleep every night, feeling like he’s with us.
I dump out the Halloween candy and pick out the Snickers; she helps. We save those until last to eat. And I buy her an icy Dr. Pepper at the baseball game because, as she told me once, “It tastes like the ballgame, Mama.” And Daddy, I always add.
And I buy us new game day t-shirts and turn on the Cowboys games on Sunday afternoon, to help her internalize her Daddy’s love of football, to make the sound of a roaring crowd be comfortable and familiar. And we take our opening game day family photo because keeping those traditions is what will keep her Daddy close.
His photos are scattered all around the house, and when she says, “Tell me the story when…”, I always stop and do it. I’m teaching her to cook his favorite recipes, the ones he always asked for; and she laughs when she asks for catsup because she knows I hate it, but her Daddy loved it. She is so much like him, my little mini-Kev, and I want her to remember him well, to know that she’s more her Daddy than just her physical looks.
I remember crying to the hospice grief counselor, “She’s so young; I’m afraid she’ll forget him,” and she reached over, took my hand and assured me, “She won’t. I promise you – she won’t.”
And I promise you, Kevin – she won’t.
I tiptoed into the bedroom, tugged the scented sheets a little closer to her face, kissed her forehead, and whispered, “Sweet dreams, little girl.”
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:20)