Smell of Home – haibun

free stock illustration


“He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares, long, long, forgotten.” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Christmas baking fills
the house with smells of love – stars
look down and make a wish.

Somehow, the tasteful artificial wreath decorated with shiny red and gold balls irked me. My mother-in-law had bought it at an outlet in Williamsburg to replace the small pine swag on our front door. The bright red bow tying it together was a little crooked. She disapproved of that as well. She missed her husband who had died shortly before Christmas of last year. I sympathized but as soon as she left, I fished out my pine swag from the trash and replaced the tasteful one, perfectly hung, on our front door with my clumsy one. We never used artificial things for Christmas when I was growing up. Until I moved to Philadelphia, every year, my father and I went into the woods and searched out the perfect tree and cut swags of pine, cedar, spruce. We knew where the holly with the thickest amount of red berries lived and had spotted the oaks with mistletoe in several oaks the week before. We both had our rifles slung on our backs. It was a contest as to who could shoot down the biggest bunch of mistletoe. We took turns letting the other win. And then to home. My grandmother and aunts had punched oranges full of holes and inserted whole cloves tying red ribbons around each. My mother put the swags of greens together for garlands, wreaths and swags which we hung inside and outside the house. The oranges were hung on the green decorations and the house smelled of the greenery, oranges, and spice.

We each baked our specialty– spicy hermit cookies, snickerdoodles, pecan snowballs, sweet potato pies, Kentucky bourbon cakes, fudge – for a week the house smelled of spices, sugar, bourbon, and fruit. I won the family award for best sweet potato pie – it’s a secret recipe – wink. One year, my teenaged middle aunt wanted Shalimar for Christmas. Somehow, the box with the exotically shaped bottle broke and Shalimar whispered its sweet tale to us all until the New Year. She used some of her Christmas gift money to buy it herself.

Ever since my father, grandfather, and grandmother died, it has not been the same. Walking through years of artificial trees, plastic baubles, white tree lights, and pine scented candles, the year I had been hospitalized for surgery and treatment for cancer I decided enough was enough. I pulled out the ancient fragile blown glass balls, the strings of brightly colored lights, My First Christmas ornament. A friend came and decorated the live tree she had picked out for me because I had asked her and I lay upon the couch for frequent rests. She helped me bake the sweet potato pies and Bourbon cake. That day, for the first time in years, my house smelled of the Christmases I remembered with tears and love. My husband laughed when he came home from work, the last day before the office closed for Christmas.

I sat on the couch that night with only the tree lights glowing. The ghosts of Christmas past were there – my father opening his joke box of chocolate covered cherries, my grandmother laughing as she clapped her hands in joy when someone opened the gift she had given them, my mother and aunts making jokes and then singing together carols –  they are alive but absent but still they came to join in. All the cats and dogs that had loved us lay about sleepy and content, filled with turkey bits sneakingly given to them, as I lay there and remembered, tears slipping down my cheeks. After that Christmas eight years ago, Christmas is happy and not a bit tasteful and perfect. My husband smiles a lot and takes in deep breaths and raids the cookie jar.  In a couple of weeks my home will be filled with those perfumed memories and gentle spirits.  The tasteful wreath has gone to a nearby church that is providing decorations to people who are in need of them. And while the elements of Christmas are here, oh how I miss those people I love. Of all the things so dear, my beloved family I miss the most.

fresh green cedar wreath
hung with oranges – sweet smelling
past whispers in dreams 

orange wreath









Tuesday at d’Verse Poets Pub, at the beginning of this holiday season, Mary is prompting us to write about what we miss during this time.  Come and visit and share.  What do you miss?


45 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Suzanne
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 01:20:53

    Gosh – your haibun has touched me deeply. I’m not a great fan of Christmas (all the consumerism) but your post reminds of the aspects of Christmas that are to be cherished and nurtured – particularly in these troubled times. Thank you.


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 17, 2015 @ 12:21:27

      Thank you. It is indeed the love and nurturing that is important and what seems to get lost in the shuffle of party and giving only because it is expected. There is a home shopping channel on the TV and a couple of weeks ago, they started their Consumermas campaign. For $65.99 you can buy this splendid huge tin of chocolates – for your family, self or….we include these little gift bags so you can split up the chocolates and give to your neighbors, the mailman, a teacher, a c0-worker. You can get 10 generous gifts from this and at $6.50 apiece, you have a bargain! Oh Suzanne, it just makes my stomach hurt when I hear such dribble. Buy buy buy give give give – and it’s a bargain…you barely know these peo9ple but give them something just to do it. Such a mess. If it wasn’t for the fact I grew up in such a family oriented, homemade Christmas, I might have been sucked into such mess. Party party party buy buy buy. You are right. In these troubled times, we need to pull even closer those we love and to cherish our time and laughter with them.


      • Suzanne
        Nov 17, 2015 @ 17:25:58

        I hope you have a good holiday season. It starts earlier over there with your Thanksgiving. Over here in Oz the decorations are beginning to appear in shops but the full madness hasn’t started yet. I try to avoid thinking about till December. :


        • kanzensakura
          Nov 17, 2015 @ 17:37:17

          Actually, decorations and things for sale popped up in the stores right before Halloween – so sad! As a kid we never saw anything until right after Thanksgiving. It just starts too soon but then, they want to sell lots of stuff. ☹


          • Suzanne
            Nov 17, 2015 @ 22:18:32

            They probably did here too now that you mention it. I try not to notice 🙂 and am working out how to consume less and visit the shops less so I’m not really tuned in to at present.


            • kanzensakura
              Nov 17, 2015 @ 22:36:22

              I noticed because it was so very jarring. A few years ago, I made a cookbook using old family recipies and individual specialties like my mother’s Brunswick stew, an aunt’s gooey butter cake, my father’s Cole slaw and fried chicken for example, my grandmother’s fresh orange cake. The pages were peppered with family sayings, stories, and a few photos. It was a big hit. We have all made a conscious effort to cut down things like dustcatchers. My aunt’husband just wants good German/swiss/belgium chocolates. So…we none of us really need anything and we give to each other through the year so mainly it is about us being together. This year, I took a photo of us years ago and had it copied. It is being put into different frames that suit the individuals. That’s it and a huge chunk of Kentucky bourbon cake for each. It’s fun to come up with such ideas.


              • Suzanne
                Nov 18, 2015 @ 03:39:07

                It does sound like fun. Our challenge this year is presents for my autistic grandson who doesn’t like toys but likes to make things like fireman helmets . I’m collecting packets and fancy tape already.


  2. Mary
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 08:09:56

    I enjoyed your memories, Toni. And I was reminded as well of the wonderful Christmas smells when my mother did her holiday baking. So many varieties of cookies. Even the (dreaded) fruitcakes! Grandparents, parents, all of my aunts & uncles…so nothing is quite the same. I liked all the details you included. And very poignant that you mentioned that though the elements of Christmas may be present, it is the loved people who have passed that are missed!


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 17, 2015 @ 12:14:15

      I have to smile at the dreaded fruitcakes. The ones we made was a changed around Kentucky Bourbon cake dense but not heavy. The recipe included bourbon in the batter, nutmeg, orange marmalade, a pound of chopped pecans – the batter made four loaves, and chopped glaceed pineapple and cherries colored red and green for the holidays. We made them the week of TG and wrapped in cheesecloth and put into tins and set in a cool place. Every few days, they were unwrapped and bourbon poured over the cheesecloths in a small amount. They became moist and decadent not like those horrors many associate with fruit cake. We always served it and friends would even beg for some. The same today. I have a few people who ask if the “happy” cakes have been made when I will be divvying out chunks. I’m glad you liked the haibun. Indeed, it is those we love who make the holidays and not all the stuff and scurrying around, giving stuff to people we normally would only see at work or rarely just because it is expected. We had little money so the close happy times with family and close friends were the emphasis, not the consumerism, although we enjoyed giving special things to those we loved.


  3. Björn Rudberg (brudberg)
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 14:13:33

    I love the smells of Christmas.. the mixtures of cinnamon, ginger, cardamon and cloves.. the smell of unscented candles, mandarins, the smell of pine.. and then the dishes the herring and the ham, the meatballs and yes even lutefisk… Christmas is smell more than gifts for me… This year we will travel to my mom and we will visit her in her place, maybe bring her away a little… so sad that she has to stay in a home.


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 17, 2015 @ 14:35:03

      Those smells are such memory triggers. I find the smells of your Christmas so intriguing and some different from mine. Cardamon is not common. We have a variety of citrus with their different smells and tastes. Ham of course, fried chicken, steamed oysters, maple smells…it is sad your mother is in a home but good you can bring her out. I know many homes do their best to make the season bright and provide special dishes as allowed by diet and eating ability. Our church joins with others to go to facilities in the area to do carroling, take home made cookies and treats…it helps the families as well.


  4. Glenn Buttkus
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 15:12:20

    Oh yes, the smells, the carols, the food; all triggers, all stoking emotional memories. Your haibun was superb, & your memories sterling; smiling through the tears.


  5. MarinaSofia
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 15:12:39

    Grrr, where did my comment go? I visited this haibun a few hours ago and now I came to reread it (mouth watering, all senses aquiver) and I notice that my comment didn’t take.
    I think I said something about the appeal to all the senses, how holidays seem to be particularly associated with smells and tastes.


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 17, 2015 @ 15:14:58

      Several people have had trouble commenting the last couple of days on WP. It seems they do things behind the scenes and do not let people know so…comments disappear!!! I’m glad the smells and such got your mouth watering. We did not have much money but we lived life fully and joyously!


  6. Victoria C. Slotto
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 15:33:06

    This is so tender. I love how you used the sense of smell to draw you through all those memories. Smell is definitely so tied in to memory, to reminiscence.


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 17, 2015 @ 16:23:21

      Those smells are so engrained in our memory senses. So basic. My mother now does not remember a recent meal but the other day, my aunt was peeling a tangerine for her and she said, oh how that reminds me of our Christmases!


  7. Sherry Marr
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 16:08:18

    This was so beautiful to read….such memories…..and how well I know the feeling of missing those dear people and creatures who are gone. Loved the idea that their spirits had come to share the holiday with you………Christmas has not been the same for me for some years now……….so this went straight to my heart.


  8. whimsygizmo
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 16:10:09

    I especially love that line break that brings both love and stars home. 🙂


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 17, 2015 @ 16:21:48

      Thank you. That line came from my mother, sort of. We were all standing outside the falling snow and my mother looked up and said, I think tonight that even heaven is envious of us.


  9. Sanaa Rizvi
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 16:55:08

    Your poem made me soo emotional! Its deeply touching and reaches into the soul. Nothing can compare to the memories spent with our families in the past.

    Lots of love,


  10. navasolanature
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 17:05:56

    This is beautifully described and makes me miss those past times too. Thanks for that.


  11. ayala zarfjian (@ayalazarfjian)
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 17:07:48

    Touching and beautiful.


  12. Gabriella
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 19:40:47

    Your haibun is filled with memories and powerfully appeals to our senses. I think Christmas is the most-filled with lovely warm smells. It makes me think of my own mother’s house and the real wreath on the door.


  13. Grace
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 20:02:30

    There something about smells that makes me remember my own Christmas memories ~ My parents are still alive but living in another part of the world so our Christmas in Canada have not really been that joyful but we make the most out of my own family celebrating and carrying on some traditions ~ Really appreciate the details here Toni ~ A lovely haibun ~


  14. kaykuala h
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 20:55:27

    How nice Toni! There is a whole lot of loving in this. You’ve made it all the more intense with a long narration that many can relate to. It also triggers off pleasant memories in a personal sort of way to everyone. Thanks for sharing!



  15. Loredana Donovan
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 21:29:11

    What a beautiful Christmas story! I love all the scents, visuals and memories. I agree with you about using fresh greenery and decorations. I love those vintage glass balls and colorful lights. Enjoyed this a lot. Hope you have a great Christmas!


  16. Bodhirose
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 21:30:16

    The love flowing through this is palpable, Toni. How fortunate you were to have such strong family bonds and traditions that you have lovingly brought back to life in your haibun.


  17. Victoria
    Nov 17, 2015 @ 23:32:44

    I love reading how you reclaimed the smells and imperfections of your childhood holidays at a time when your life was at risk. And I love the photograph of the rwreath with oranges. Making the clove oranges is so much bigger a task than I imagined, and hard on the fingers. One year we used tangerines!


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 18, 2015 @ 14:34:59

      We always used an ice pick – tool of a bygone era. One gets all sticky and orangey smelling. We always used the smaller, thin skinned “juice” oranged. Small hole with just the pointy end and then fill up the holes The cloves usually go right in. I also do several just to set about. I’ll put in a martini glass (used for everything except martinis!) to place the cloved orange in and set in the living room, den, bath, etc.


  18. Pleasant Street
    Nov 18, 2015 @ 11:14:10

    Lovely picture of your family celebrations. That sadness and love all gets woven together, doesn’t it?


  19. Linda Kruschke
    Nov 18, 2015 @ 16:26:02

    You brought back some wonderful Christmas memories of my own. Although I have to confess that last year we finally gave up on the live tree and bought a fake one, partly because we thought the cat less likely to climb it and partly because my husband and I are both allergic to pine pollen. When I remembered just last week I felt a little sad to think we won’t have a real tree again this year. Peace and Merry Christmas, Linda


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 19, 2015 @ 01:20:48

      I know how you feel. I am allergic also. I get a small table top tree now and set it outside and rinse it off with the hose and let it dry. That gets rid of it. The smell of that small tree in the house is amazing.


  20. macjam47
    Nov 19, 2015 @ 16:24:37

    Lovely post, overflowing with memories. There is something about Christmas decorations, traditions, and smells that always takes me back to childhood Christmases and memories of my parents.


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