Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Scent of Honeysuckle


They say that our olfactory sense is the last to go; that up 'til the end when our memories of names and faces and places are gone, we can remember certain smells.  I can instantly remember the smell of burning leaves, the richness of a plowed field after a summer rain, and potatoes frying in a skillet.  I can remember the smell of mimeograph machine ink from fifty years ago, and the Vick's salve that Mama rubbed on our throats.  I remember waking up to the smell of coffee and bacon cooking every morning of my childhood.  Nothing smelled as good as honeysuckle.


We knew it was spring then, when we played outside by the porch light and our bare feet got slick with dew, and it was like being in a perfume factory with the wild honeysuckle blooming along fence rows and road sides.  Later, when we were dating, we rode those country roads with the car windows down, listening to music with the smell of honeysuckle intensifying the young love being born.



In the late 1800s, in an effort to stop erosion in their fields, farmers were encouraged to plant the vines.  It was useful sometimes, but it wouldn't stop growing and spreading and soon became a nuisance, competing with corn and cotton for moisture and nutrients. The grown-ups hated it, but we didn't care.  We loved it because it smelled so good.  We even bought honeysuckle scented lotion and perfume. 


Unlike a lot of things from my childhood, the honeysuckle has lasted.  Driving down Cox Creek Parkway with the windows down last night, the honeysuckle aroma permeated everything, much to my delight and to the dismay of those suffering from allergies. And I remembered. 

In the language of flowers, honeysuckle meant sweetness of disposition because of the sweet scent of the flowers.  It also implied a bond or meant "captive of love," suggested by the plant's twining growth habit that embraces trees and other plants.  The common name woodbine comes from Middle English and refers to the ability of the plant to tie or bind as it grows and climbs.  Bobby J. Ward, A Contemplation Upon Flowers: Garden Plants in Myth and Literature