The last trip Scott and I made to Greece without kids, a year before I became pregnant with L., we brought back a huge bouquet of mountain oregano, picked from the fields outside the village where my parents have a summer house.
We crammed the bouquet into our carry-on bag, without thinking about how strong dried oregano might smell in all its crumbling glory, inside the front pocket of a backpack. We had a day-long stopover in London, and decided to check our bags in lockers at the airport, so we could walk around the city. Scott had never been to London before and I will always jump at the chance to spend even an hour there. The tired lady at the locker-check counter wrinkled her nose when we passed her the bag.
"What's in there?" she asked.
We froze, worried she would confiscate the oregano then and there; that she might think it was something else entirely. It hadn't occurred to us either that bringing dried herbs into another country could be against the law.
"Just some oregano," Scott said breezily.
And that was it. No more questions. The oregano made it to London. It also made it into the U.S. uneventfully and when we got back to our Rochester apartment I stuck the bouquet in a vase on the counter, where it gave off its crumbling sweet, sun-baked aroma all winter long.
The last bouquet of oregano we brought back from Greece was from the summer we took both kids there, in 2006. The day we left the village for Athens, and then for our return trip back home, I was sitting on a bench in the hot plateia, watching the kids play. T. was just two and running around on short, still uncertain legs. One of the villagers, a man named Panos, came by to sit next to me. He was a gentle, kind-hearted person, who I just know had ideas and dreams about life that roamed far beyond the simple, solitary existence he led in the village. Every summer we went back to the village he was always happiest to see me.
"Aliki," he'd say, flicking his worry beads from one broad hand to the other, and then he'd ask me how things were going, in this life of mine that must have seemed so different, so strange, so faraway from his world. That day he gave me a huge clump of mountain oregano and I slipped one of T.'s hairbands around the thick stalks to keep them together.
Panos died over a year ago, alone, taking all his ideas and dreams away with him. No one will ever know what they were, or what he thought about his life, or what he wanted from it in the end. I mourned him profoundly, for reasons I'm not even sure of, when I heard the news of his death,. The oregano he gave us is long gone, too, and I can't even remember when we used the last of it.
My parents brought the kids little gifts from London and Greece when they visited last week and, last but certainly not least, a small bouquet of dried oregano from the village. I put it in a vase in my kitchen window and if I close my eyes and smell it, breathe it in deeply, I'm back again--body and soul, mind and heart.
(Do you see the bench?)