If you walked into our Colorado Springs home, passed through our kitchen and sunroom and then into a bright bathroom with a walk-in shower, you’d probably notice a small medicine cabinet hanging on the wall.
Or maybe not. Everybody has one, but not quite like this one. That’s because it’s more than a medicine cabinet, at least to me. It’s a time capsule.
I remember buying it at Lowe’s back in 2013. You know the kind. Mirror on the outside, three adjustable shelves on the inside. No assembly required. Maybe around $30.
My father, then 82, was moving in with us, and we were preparing his new space. My mother and his wife of 57 years had passed away the previous year. We converted our dining room to a bedroom, added a bathroom and sun/sitting room for him – and he happily and excitedly joined our growing family of five.
My dad would spend his last four years with us, passing away peacefully on a Friday night just a few feet from our kitchen, surrounded by all his kids. We took our time cleaning out some of his things. I struggled mightily with his closet. I was sentimental about all the suits and shirts. We donated quite a bit, but even to this day, a few still remain.
But jumping into his medicine cabinet to clean and sort impacted me more than I anticipated. Opening it, I discovered what you’d expect an old man to possess – his many prescriptions, along with Coppertone sunscreen (he loved to sit out on the deck), deodorant, Afta Pre-Electric Shave Lotion, and of course, Old Spice aftershave.
One by one, I picked the bottles up, shaking each to see how much was left inside. I then unscrewed the tops and inhaled the aromas. It’s amazing how powerful scents can be.
“Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than any other channel,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes, a former Supreme Court justice. He was right.
A whiff of the Coppertone sunscreen triggered one of my earliest memories – taking “motorboat rides” on my father’s back down at Oceanside Pool – a community park on Long Island’s south shore. To my three-year-old mind, Oceanside Pool was a giant and magical place. But even in the “deeper” water, I felt secure holding onto my father’s neck and shoulders. Good fathers can elicit such security.
The Old Spice brought me back to Sunday mornings. My dad would appear in a coat and tie in the kitchen, freshly shaved. He’d load up the station wagon and take us all to church. Then it was to either the neighborhood deli for cold cuts for dinner or to the bagel store. The fresh scent of his Old Spice filled the car. Even to this day, I associate that aroma with the happiness and joy of family worship.
The Afta Pre-Electric shave conjured up memories of my father returning from work. He apparently kept an electric razor in his office and would shave before taking the Long Island Railroad back home from Manhattan. No five o’clock shadow for Jim Batura. We’d run to greet him as he stepped off the train. As he knelt to hug us, his smooth cheek would touch ours. Forevermore I’ve connected that scent with how good it felt for my father to be back home.
I decided to leave those bottles in the medicine cabinet. This might sound silly to some, but every now and again, I’ll open one up and inhale. The journey it takes me on is brief but satisfying.
The common thread through all the memories is security – for my safety, my sustenance, and my faith. My dad wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a great father. As we celebrate Father’s Day this coming Sunday, let’s lift up the good men who have shaped us – and commit to instilling in our sons the importance of teaching, encouraging and providing for the next generation the things money will never buy.