The Sweet Smell of an Atlanta Summer

Shortly after the end of school, we flew to Atlanta for our annual summer visit.  Just as we did last year, we opted for MARTA to save my parents a drive to and from the airport, and to protect everyone from the stress provoked by that alarming ride.  (See Fun with Ground Transportation, July 2012.)  We waited only a few minutes at the Arts Center station before we saw Daddy rounding the corner from 16th Street in his red station wagon.  My generally healthy father had frightened us this spring by catching a persistent bug that required two hospitalizations and prevented him and Mama from traveling  to Virginia for our daughter’s school musical. We hadn’t seen my parents since early November, and I had been increasingly aware of their absence.  I felt a real sense of delight as I saw Daddy driving up, waving, and I’m sure, whistling.  He tends to whistle when he’s happy.

It was the second day of summer, and the temperature was pleasantly spring-like.  Atlanta’s signature oppressive heat was blessedly absent.  The city was in glorious, fragrant late June bloom.  Our visit coincided with an occurrence I’ve been saddened to miss for a decade or so:  the blooming of the gardenia bush outside my old bedroom window.  In years past, we’ve arrived in early July, just after the heyday, when the blossoms are withered and brown.  It’s like reaching the home of old friends, only to find that they left a day earlier for a year-long journey.   I found it reassuring to behold those familiar, powerfully sweet-smelling blooms, snowy and velvety white.   The idyllic scent of  summer, and of long childhood days (without air conditioning) will always live for me in the smell of gardenias.

Gardenia blossoms.
Gardenias, seen from the window of my old bedroom.

The gardenias were only one group of voices in the welcoming symphony of fragrance that greeted us as we stepped out of the car.  A stand of privet, much enlarged over the years, and at the height of its bloom, bent its dense and shady canopy over the driveway.  Tall hedges of abelia, buzzing with bees, hugged both sides of the house.  Enormous blossoms of magnolia in the next-door neighbor’s yard could be glimpsed and enjoyed.  Leaning over the fence was a mimosa tree, covered with fluffy pink flowers borrowed from a Dr. Seuss book.  A few late-blooming clusters of purple wisteria still remained.  To my recollection, Atlanta had never smelled better, or appeared more beautiful.   It sure felt good to be back in my hometown.

Privet canopy.



All this week, back in Virginia after our return, the words of this melancholy John Prine song have been echoing in my mind.  It may be a while before I can lay myself down again the arms of my darling hometown.  I hope I’ll go there in my dreams.

Far away over the sea
there’s a river that’s calling to me.
That river she runs all around
the place that I call my hometown.

There’s a valley on the side of a hill
and flowers on an old window sill.
A familiar old picture, it seems,
and I go there tonight in my dreams.

Where it’s green in the summer
and gold in the fall
Her eyes are as blue,
as the sky, I recall.

Far away over the sea
there’s a place at the table for me.
Where laughter and music abound.
It’s waiting there in my hometown.

The river, she freezes
when there’s snow on the ground,
and the children can slide
to the far side of town.

Far away, far away me,
hung up on a sweet memory.
I’m lost and I wish I were found
in the arms of my darlin’ hometown.

With the evening sun settin’
on the top of the hill
and the mockingbird answering
the old chapel bell.

Far away over the sea
my heart is longing to be.
And I wish I could lay myself down
in the arms of my darlin’ hometown.

My Darlin’ Hometown
by John Prine and Roger Oak