Hot today. Walking into Helen White Hall smells like walking into Salem Church: cool, dry, old painted wood-work and old carpet kept clean though much walked-on. Helen White’s stairs don’t squeak like Salem’s, but their kitchens are similar with cream-painted cabinents and old linoleum. They are buildings gracious in their old age: though we who inhabit them now did not see the trees when they were small, we are allowed to stay and to leave our pin-marks in the walls for others to trace.
And so Helen White smells like patience, like being very tired and yet continuing to continue, hoping for the things that don’t happen, and treasuring up all of the things that do. It smells like meeting a smile on the squeaky stairs early in the morning and catching a glance over the top of red-cushioned pews … or like imagining those things. It smells like spending hours on a playground with little children who name their stuffed animals after you, when all the while you are very attentive to the parking lot where the people your age are not having stuffed animals named after them. It smells like sitting in a wooden Sunday school chair, listening to talk of the doings you didn’t do, the people you don’t know, and the jokes that happened somewhere else.
It smells like being home: home where you are told that “We were all born here. And you – ” You weren’t. But even so, home is where you like to be. And on a hot day, when it seems the world is about to be other than it is, you like to realize that you haven’t changed so very much.