Because its distinctive and elegant, resinous perfume and flavor are so potent, the herb rosemary is intimidating to use. Hyper-sensory persons like my spouse can be reluctant to choose dishes when they detect a larger presence of herbs, and this beauty is among the most extroverted and easy-to-spot on that list. It can overpower extra delicate ingredients if used heavy-handedly.
But, like many accomplished and self-assured characters, when this fabulous herb is showcased to its best advantage, it’s the life of the party, the belle of the ball. With such a unique, recognizable scent and flavor profile, it’s easy for me to see how it would be the obvious choice as a symbol, and indeed, stimulant, of memory. Whenever I pass a rosemary plant I am compelled to stroke its incense-laden leaves, their odorous stickiness seeming to hold my hand in a reciprocal grasp. I inhale a long, deep draught of that alluring oil and am transported hither and yon in time and space. Of course, I was thinking about this unusually potent attraction when I wrote about the garden just last Tuesday.
Then, last night, I was reminded of how long the name has had a special resonance for me as well. My email held a little note informing me that my great-aunt Rosemary had just arrived at my blog as a subscriber, and without the aid of any herbal catalyst to take me there, I was transported back in time to when I first remember her, when I was very young and small. This Rosemary, too, has always had for me great beauty both inwardly and outwardly, not least of all because she was kind to little me and my siblings and our young cousins and friends and, especially, to my great-uncle, but also because she was eagerly intelligent, thoughtful, and full of quiet strength.
My great-uncle, her husband and companion of so many years, died just recently, and I can only imagine what a sea change this makes in her life. It’s a strange thing when relatives we have rarely been near in person for great lengths of time, whether the distance was one of miles, ages, life paths, or a combination of these as in our case, die. My great-uncle’s sister, my grandmother, left this world in an entirely different way, having been usurped by Alzheimer’s some years before she died and thus becoming a wholly different person than the one I’d known, while still living in a place where I could manage to see her occasionally without crossing the country. Two different sorts of separation, but in both instances, the person I knew from my youth had effectively been removed from my sight and my daily life for a long time; yet when each died, I was surprised to find I experienced the loss afresh. I suppose it’s partly being able, now, to mentally return to the place and conditions in which I felt I knew them best. Memory, yes, it is a strange and magical thing.
No more icebox cookies while reading in Grandma’s living room, or watching her crochet her perfectly aligned tiny rows to make the best potholders on earth while we visited. No more leafing together through Uncle Ralph’s gorgeous black-and-white photos of a full life and all of our relatives looking ever so much younger and more mysterious and glamorous in them, or hearing him discuss anything from nature’s beauty to what was on the table to psychology with avid, probing attention. Heaven knows there are enough quirks in our extended family to have kept his keen and trained mind busy with this last topic to the degree that I can only imagine it will continue to entertain him equally in the afterlife. He’s probably our there having a good laugh over my having said so.
But as for Rosemary, both the herb and my great-aunt, the preciosity lies, not just in the beauties of memory but also in being stalwart, graceful, and remarkably unassuming for such strong and lovely creations. It is truly good to reconnect with and be blessed by those gifts. One chapter of the story ends and a new and sweet one begins.