While riding my bike the other day, I smelled a wonderful scent reminiscent of my childhood, which led me to think about other scents that take me back down memory lane. Like lilacs and wisteria – back all the way to childhood. Or sweet magnolias, reminding me of Longwood Gardens. I remember being at Longwood in my Easter Dress and black patent leather shoes when my parents had taken my grandmother and Great Aunt Bert as an Easter outing after church. The wonderful scents that emanate throughout the gardens are enough to bring you to a standstill so you can breathe that heavenly scented air even more deeply. I remember it being so crowded and found out later that Easter Day is the biggest tourist day for the gardens.
While volunteering at Longwood many years later in the Peirce-Dupont House, I was looking through the archives and found that probably Pierre DuPont (the founder and creator of Longwood Gardens) was in attendance that particular Easter Sunday. Mr. DuPont died in 1954, which would have put my age at 5, so it could be that I rubbed shoulders (not literally) with him.
Shortly after he purchased the ‘farm’ as it was when Mr. DuPont bought it in 1906, he started renovating the acreage into formal gardens. During Mr. DuPont’s years, he often had dinner parties in the conservatory (after the reflecting water drained) with long white tablecloths and bamboo chairs – and black tie of course. As Longwood was near enough to Wilmington and even Philadelphia, his guests would arrive in their carriages for the weekend. Along with providing food and entertainment for his guests (he had fountains and an outdoor theatre built where the cow pasture had been), he also provided stabling for the horses and overnight accommodations for the grooms and carriage drivers; sometimes feeding a couple hundred people during a weekend. Mr. DuPont lived very simply at Longwood compared to the glamour of his relatives in nearby Wilmington; preferring instead to lavish his money on the gardens.
What I was smelling from my bike however (remember the bike ride?), was freshly cut hay drying in the sun. There are fields nearby with wheel-line irrigators that make the most beautiful alfalfa hay I’ve ever seen. When the hay is cut, the wind-rows are so high it would have bogged down the balers of my childhood and early adulthood. I always loved going to bed at night with the windows open and having that smell waft in through the screen. Then there was the other side of the smell: the hot, sweaty, dusty part where you loaded the wagons by hand, then stacking them carefully in order that the bales wouldn’t all fall off the wagon with the first bump that it hit. Then, you pulled close enough to the elevator (or backed the wagon into the barn) to load the bales (one at a time) on the elevator to get them to the top of the hay mow. Then you stacked them yet again in the hay mow. After that, you swept off the wagon and had some sweet iced tea and started all over again. My brothers would say they worked harder than I did, and that’s probably true – but I pulled my weight!