The smell of snow is sharp and antiseptic, like a tincture of the landscape, and snow has a sound -- like holding a sea shell up to your ear -- stand still in the snow and it makes an audible noise, several noises in fact...there’s the sound of snow falling at night, the sound of snow on a field, the sound of snow laying heavy in a forest, the sound of snow with the moon upon it, the sound of snow when you are lying down in it looking up at the white sky thinking no day could be as exquisite as the one you are in right now and the best sound of snow? The sound snow makes when you wake up in the morning to discover the world is frozen, vaulted, chapel-like and still.
Being raised by ones’ grandparents is to grow up with a warped sense of time. You become their connection to the modern world and they become your connection to what the world used to be. There is a great sense of freedom, because you are not their first child, not even their second -- you are their Last child. They have seen their first children already grow up and leave and have children of their own, you in fact, so they see you as something to be guided but not directed. They rarely worry about you, they trust you. And in turn, because they trust you so generously, you are obliged to simply honor that trust.
But it makes a strange soul out of you -- you use expressions that are a generation removed, you read books that are of a different era...Mark Twain and Kipling first editions are in the house and you are not aware that there is anything OLD about them. OLD movies and OLD movie stars are contemporary. Your parents become like sisters and brothers to you and you have no concept of what middle age is, because your living with people who are well past those years.
And death looms a little closer than it should because they are much closer to it than a set of middle aged parents...and because they are closer to it, they mark time with you, they are relieved when they have made it to your 12th birthday, through your first year of high school, through your high school graduation, through your first year of college and so on. And when you are grown, they finally feel like they can let go -- they were there to get you to a marked destination...parents don’t mark time like that, at least I don’t think they do, see? I’m slightly warped.
Because I lived in an old house with old people, the smells of my childhood are medicinal ... camphor, alcohol, vinegar, antiphlagestine clay, epsom salts, absorbine...horse linements and tincture of green...I didn’t think it was unusual until I grew up and found that my house was not quite so filled with these smells and now that I am middle aged, those smells are creeping in again, sharp reminders of Mom and Pop. And the cold weather takes me into my Connecticut childhood in the most intense way, like the aura to a seizure...the sting and glare of snow splits my mind open and spills me into that little room I inhabited over the kitchen...