Of lavender and squashed fly biscuits

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, we’ll have to make do with 500, since that’s all this space allows.

The picture in question shows a young woman sitting under a bright yellow umbrella, playing a harp. The sky is brilliantly blue, with enough frothy white cloud to declare it a perfect day in Lawrence, Kansas.

The harpist is facing away from the camera, like the Spanish cellist Pablo Casals in that famous portrait by Yousuf Karsh.

What she sees – and what we see – is row upon manicured row of blue-purple blossoms stretching toward the horizon on what the caption explains is a lavender farm.

Of course, I already knew lavender’s blue, dilly, dilly, lavender’s green. But thanks to that photo on a friend’s Facebook post, I learned a valuable bit of trivia: they grow lavender on farms. Who knew?

That picture did what all good pictures do. It told a story, without the need of a single word, let alone 1,000.

But it did more than that. It triggered what may have been a low-grade  form of synesthesia, the phenomenon in which some people’s brains are cross-wired to produce a kind of sensory stew.

For instance, a person with synesthesia (“union of the senses”) might hear colours, or see sounds, or smell music.

I don’t actually have that fascinating condition, although as a child I once blurted out that a particular hard Christmas candy tasted the way Snap smelled. Surely you remember Snap, that grey, gritty hand cleanser in a can.

This pronouncement met with a chorus of derision from my older siblings. You can’t taste a smell, they insisted.

Back to my friend’s photo. I know I only imagined hearing what the harpist was playing, but I swear I actually smelled that field of blue-purple. Not with my nose, but with my eyes. And with my memory.

That field of blossoms instantly transported me back to my grandmother’s closet in Windsor, Ontario.

Squeezed among the drab woollen dresses of a lengthy widowhood was the inevitable handful of conical raffia sachets, silently giving off the sweet blue-purple fragrance I would later “see” in a photo of a field in Kansas.

For all its delicateness of tone, somehow the lavender in Granny’s closet always managed to hold its own against the more acrid odours of mothballs and incontinence. And since smell is the most memory-inducing scent, lavender has been with me ever since.

The longer I looked at that photo from Lawrence, Kansas, the more senses it seemed to engage. I found myself seeing and tasting Sultana biscuits, those flat, bland wafers we called “squashed fly biscuits”.

They were Granny’s favourite indulgence. Once a week, she would dispatch me to Joe Vezina’s market on Tecumseh Avenue for a packet. They cost 33 cents. She would give me 35 cents and insist that I keep the change.

For fields of lavender, for photos, and for memories, that’s my two cents’ worth for this week.

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