It was the summer of jasmine

One of my favorite books, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom begins “It was the summer of wisteria….” The description that follows, of a house literally inside the wisteria, is astonishingly beautiful. Wisteria grows around here too. It blooms at Easter, for a brief period, and then it turns grey and pods appear where the grape-like clusters were. We’re either too far north for it to be scented, or we aren’t growing the right kind, but wisteria in Northern California is not the wisteria Faulkner knew.

Last night, lying in bed, the window open, the room was permeated with the jasmine that grows in great hedges all around us. Where I live, summer smells like star jasmine. Star jasmine grows on vines that mass into hedges of glossy green leaves and tiny white flowers. Its scent is exotic, but not very strong. It’s a little mysterious. You find yourself wondering what it is, before you remember that it must be jasmine. It makes even walking around the neighborhood an adventure. Outside this morning, working on my novel, it’s perfuming our yard and the summer.

Here’s something surprising: After writing this, and because I don’t have the book handy, I went over to Amazon, to see if my memory of the book matches the reality. Turns out, I’m wildly off mark. The scene with the wisteria isn’t anywhere to be found in the first pages. My guess is that I didn’t just dream this up, but that it occurs a bit later. It’s just that the book must have begun for me there, in the dreamy, wisteria-scented bedroom rather than in the dusty office the narrator visits the summer before he goes east for college.


11 thoughts on “It was the summer of jasmine

  1. What a beautiful post! It’s funny how memory works this way. I often find myself remembering passages like that, and then they turn out to be really different, or from a completely other book.

    I was walking in the very hot woods this morning and thinking how the pine trees smelled like toasted marshmallows.

  2. Susan– “pine trees smelled like toasted marshmallow.” That’s very good. I need to find those woods. Could there be any trees there that smell like graham crackers and chocolate ? Smokey

  3. Oh s’more please! It’s that time of year, isn’t it? It is surprising, Susan, the way we rewrite books, and probably life, to be the way we want them to be. I want to revisit — and when I have more time I will — a lot of books like this, ones I think I know so well, but haven’t picked up for decades.

  4. It is the summer of the field trip. Doug, Aly and I are driving to Washington DC tomorrow. It’s a long 16 hour day or 2 shorter 8 hour days. Three cameras, lots of luggage, and Books! Books! Books! We’re going to be staying in Silver Spring, which is close to where we lived in Glen Burnie and on the Army post. So that’s my vacation of revisiting.

    Alyssa is just a few months younger than your twins, just old enough to enjoy a trip like this. I’m also excited to show it to her. Her mother is the one that is bummed about not being able to go. 🙂

  5. Sue, Have a great trip! Let me know if that mulberry tree is still in our old yard at 12 Cedar Drive. I loved living in that house. A camera each — that sounds about right. Love, L

  6. No wonder I couldn’t find the link on the web.. I kept thinking it was 12 Maple Drive. Found it! I’ll take pictures if I can.

    The best part of the trip is that I’ll have live Internet access as I drive. The laptop has a Verizon wifi card in it. There will be some dead zones as we drive, but I am bringing 8 books with me.

    Mulberry tree, grape vines, peach tree, apple tree, weeping willow. Hot attic.

    I won’t be able to get on base to see our house there.

  7. Very evocative post. I’m afraid I have to say that I don’t know what jasmine smells like. I may have smelled it once, must have, but nowadays we don’t go near it since sadly it gives my beloved headaches. Instead, for our garden we’re going with lavender and wild roses.

  8. Scent is so evocative, it really dredges up memories. The smell of roses always reminds me of my paternal grandmother’s house, lilac’s of my maternal grandma’s.

    I remember noticing when I was in California, hiking up the Devil’s Post Pile (I think that’s what it was called) and thinking how ‘alien’ the place smelled. Like someone opened potpouri in the other room. For me home is the smell of salt air and pine.

    As for correctly remembering things from books, some of my more creative work has come from getting something I remembered completely and utterly WRONG! It’s like I have a copper-tube memory that ferments everything put in it. Apple juice in, cider out. Vinegar if I’m having a bad day!


  9. Edwin — Lavender and roses. That sounds awfully nice! Doug, What a wonderful thought about mis-remembering. It’s like the camera with the imperfect lens you talk about.

  10. “It was a summer of wistaria” is the first line of the second chapter of Absalom. Love that book! Great post, too.

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