Dreams, Smells and Memories

I had an incredibly realistic dream last night—one of those where I wasn't sure if I was dreaming or not.

As I walked down a long hallway, my cell phone rang. It was my niece, Andrea, calling, and she and I talked as I entered a large waiting room full of people sitting in chairs. As I probed each person's face, I finally saw a face familiar to me—my dad's tan, weathered face.

 I dreamed of my father last night, and at the end, I smelled him.

I dreamed of my father last night, and at the end, I smelled him.

He was sitting next to my mother, who was sitting by my stepfather, my stepfather's brother, my Uncle Edwin, and my Aunt Monteen. They all looked up at me, as I continued my phone conversation with my niece.

"Wow," I said to Andrea. "You are never going to guess who is here. My dad is here. I don't know how and I don't know why, but my dad is here. And Mom, and Johnny, and Johnny's brother, and Uncle Edwin and Aunt Monteen... My DAD is here..."

I stared into his eyes, and he smiled as he listened to me talk to Andrea.

See, my dad died in 1992, and I look forward to seeing him occasionally in dreams. Indeed, I dream about him two or three times each month, and sometimes, the dreams are very powerful, like the one I experienced last night.

I suddenly woke from my dream and realized that our Golden Retriever was too hot and panting heavily in our bedroom. I got up and cracked a window for him, letting a stream of cool air blow toward his body. I snuggled back underneath our quilt and pouted that he had woken me from a date with my father. I heard the soft tingle of wind chimes on our front porch and drifted back to sleep.

Surprisingly, I was back in the waiting room of my dream, but the chairs were empty now, and no one was waiting. I walked around looking for any trace of my dad, but he had vanished as suddenly as he had appeared. Sad and deflated, I turned to leave the room, and there he stood in front of me. He was wearing a red golf shirt and jeans. I took a step toward him and hugged him, burying my face deeply in his chest. 

And I smelled him. I inhaled my dad's unique smell.

In twenty-three years, that smell hasn't faded from my memory, but it was extra potent last night. It was some type of validation that he was really with me last night—I don't know how and I don't know why, but he was.

I kept that smell with me all morning. I thought about my father, and I thought of my high school classmate, Julie Moss. Julie contributed a keepsake story about her dad's dresser to my Project Keepsake collection a while back. She kept her father's dresser after he died, and at times, she stands before it and breathes in her dad's manly aroma. That's the part of her story that really hooked me, because I know how powerful a smell can be after you lose someone.

So today, I'm featuring an excerpt from Julie's story on my blog because smells can be a portal connecting us to people and places we love, or loved. Julie's story starts on page 184 of the book. Enjoy the excerpt.

My parents always struggled a bit, so it was a big deal when they bought their first bedroom furniture. The set was made out of pure oak—very heavy and ornate, but not in a feminine way. It consisted of a new king size mattress, box spring and headboard, two nightstands and two dressers. My mother’s dresser was low and long with nine drawers and a mirror. My father’s dresser was tall and had two doors with drawers inside and two drawers below. I remember my father standing in front of his dresser, getting ready for a night out on the town with Mom. 

 Julie Moss tells the story of her dad's dresser in this excerpt from  Project Keepsake . 

Julie Moss tells the story of her dad's dresser in this excerpt from Project Keepsake

He eventually made two little platforms to go inside to give him more shelf and organization space. He kept all his aftershaves, colognes and jewelry inside those doors, and in the drawers were his unmentionables and old-school-style handkerchiefs which he carried for emergencies. I thought that dresser was the best dresser ever made. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.

My father and I were on the losing team, as I referred to us because my sister was very close to my mother and my father always deferred to my mother. I was lucky, though, because he taught me things that he didn’t have time to teach my sister like changing tires and checking fluids in the car—he always emphasized the importance of maintaining vehicles. He taught me how to use a grill and cut the grass. He taught me the importance of responsibility in my personal life. He always told me how beautiful I was when I was feeling fat and ugly. He once said to me that if he was my age, and not my dad, he would love to take me out. That meant a lot to me as an awkward teenage girl. 

He and my mother taught me how real love works with mutual respect and teamwork. He also taught me to be self-sufficient so I would never have to rely on a man to get things done. Once after complaining that my friends weren’t around to do something, he gave me some advice I still use today, and it is the best piece of advice I ever got from my dad. He said, “Never wait on someone to do something. If you want to see a movie, go see it, don’t wait on your friends because you will miss out on a lot of fun waiting around for other people.” 

I share his message with my son, nephew and my friends today. I never feel funny about doing anything by myself because of his advice.

I was lucky enough to work with my father for about a year doing store inventories. It was a great experience. During that time, I called him “John,” not “Dad” because of the professional environment. 

He always had his hat, a cup of coffee and a lit cigarette. One girl we worked with often, called him John Boy—how fun! I enjoyed working with him, and while I knew he was well-loved before by many people, I was able to see firsthand that he was well-liked and respected at work by coworkers. I saw that he was a positive influence to so many and a real team player. 

On several occasions, store employees would ask me if I was in charge.

“Why do they keep asking me that?” I asked my dad one day.

“Because you look like you know what you are doing,” he replied. 

His words boosted my ego to the moon. He always knew what to say to me to build my confidence.

I never saw him angry at work. He always looked for solutions to problems—a trait I inherited from him. It makes me seem kind of butch sometimes, because I am a cutthroat problem solver, which is usually a male trait. Oh well, there are much worse things in life than seeming masculine.

Years later when my parents died, my sister and I sold the house and divided their belongings as we wanted. I made sure I got several keepsakes, but above all else, I wanted his dresser—more than the bassinet he had made with his own two hands and more than the priceless record collection that he and I enjoyed together. 

Years of storing all his personal belongings in the dresser had left his “dad smell” in the wood—an imprint of him. Even now, eleven years after his death, I can still open the dresser’s doors and smell my dad. I breathe it in, and it’s as though he is still with me.

—Julie Moss, from Project Keepsake

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I haven't seen Julie since high school in Warner Robins, Georgia. We reconnected a few years ago, when ninety percent of our classmates got on Facebook. She obviously has an adventuresome spirit, because just out of the blue, she sent me her story. That's when I learned that Julie is an aspiring writer who plans to eventually compile stories from her life as a former military brat, travel agent, Waffle House waitress and inventory auditor. She is a single mother of one grown son and finished her studies at Middle Georgia State College last year. She currently works for Celadon. Again, I use the word, "adventuresome" to describe Julie.

Thanks again, Julie, for sharing your story with the world. We look forward to reading your autobiography. I'm sure it will be a page turner. And good luck at Celadon! Keep us posted.

Do you have a keepsake? If so, share its story with friends, family, and the world. Keep storytelling alive. If you don't know where to start, consider buying a copy of Project Keepsake. The book's fifty-five short keepsake stories are examinations of why we keep the objects we keep. The last chapter takes you through the process of writing your own story.

To order a signed copy, click the link on the right. Happy reading! Happy writing!