She reeks! I have made this observation since coming of age, when I realized it wasn’t the grandma deodorant. My maternal grandmother used to take me to church and, while walking, I would pick up her scent that was half perfume and half something strange, something you associate with the earthy scent of soil after the rain: the smell of disintegration. I thought it was probably the Estee Lauder. But, now that I’m older, I can discriminate that it is closer to when you spray the Lauder on a dirty loincloth.
Not that my grandmother has a bad stinking habit. She doesn’t smoke. She can’t stand the sight of things misplaced or a mound of dirty laundry. She lives alone; she cleans her house, but in one of the rare occasions we’d visited her, I remember thinking, “The house smells like grandma.” She cooks, but her scent lingers on everything she touches, say the food that she prepares.
When it comes to food, she is beyond reproach; you could tell with her concoctions that she loves us—she once said she’s putting “blood and sweat and tears” to it, which I thought was a bad idea. I swear everything she cooks is the sort that will lead you to the dirty kitchen to investigate, and eventually discover snake oil and other evil-looking ingredients in place of liquid seasoning and marinade.
I figured it is something you inherit with old age, like a medal you earn for making it to, well in her case, 80. It is something movies or children stories or the anecdotes of my grandmother herself do not include as a trait when beginning sentences like “When you grow old…” to make old age sound sweet. Everybody tells you that when you grow old, you become virtuous and wise. Nobody tells you that when you grow old, you’ll begin to smell, or that senility comes with falling teeth, cataract and bizarre habits.
My grandmother isn’t cranky, but she wears her pants at nipple level and flashes her sagging pair—without provocation—when telling tall tales about how hard it was to raise eight children. She hoards everything: plastic tabs, soap slivers; there are days she’d give you an expired chocolate bar, days you’d see a mango—which was either overripe or rotten—in her drawer, and days you’d see her eat it. And then there are days you’d grope for a rational explanation to these irrational behaviors.
“I don’t know,” she would say. “I forgot the answer.”
“When you grow old…” my grandmother used to tell me when I was little as if it’s a destination, a place, the penultimate step in the ladder. But who wants to go there: a bout with forgetfulness, neglect, the remainder of your life in an elderly home, or somewhere more solitary, like the company of your family? When you grow old, your memory will fail miserably. Maybe that’s how it’s cut out to be. You would forget and, in turn, be forgotten, so that it would be easier to go.