Saturday, July 19, 2008

That Mysterious Stinky Smell

I was terrified when I went to Albuquerque to care for my mom who was dying of cancer. She had always taken care of me, but now I was expected to carry her through these last days. I felt horribly incompetent.

I had been with her for a few weeks when a mysterious smell began permeating her house. Ordinarily her house was filled with the distinctive aroma of home--a pleasurable mixture of mountain air spiced with New Mexico piƱon.

Each day the odor multiplied, and Mom rightfully began to complain from her rented hospital bed in the den. “Susan, what is that horrible smell?”

My brother, Stan, and his wife, Carol, had recently emptied out Mom’s freezer so they could move it to their house. We propped the freezer door open so that it wouldn’t start mildewing inside, but I began to wonder if it was the source of the noxious bouquet.

I went in to the utility room several times a day, sniffing like a dog after a treat. And although the smell was strong near the freezer, I couldn’t find any mildew or other obvious sources of stench.

More days passed, and the odor permeated everything. I lost my appetite, and Mom understandably lost her patience. “Susan, you have got to get rid of that smell--it’s making me sick.” I didn’t appreciate the irony of that statement until later.

And so I headed determinedly into the utility room. It was so bad in there I thought maybe an animal had crawled under the freezer and died. So I began dismantling the grill at the bottom. I pressed my face to the floor, peering through thickened dust bunnies but seeing no evidence of decaying rodent.

I felt helpless. Here my Mom was dying, and I couldn’t get rid of that mysterious stinky smell. What kind of a caregiver was I? My fear of being incompetent was becoming a reality.

As I stood to take one more look at the freezer, my left foot bumped into garbage bag on the floor. I thought it was empty, a leftover from Stan and Carol’s freezer raid. But, I decided to look in it anyway.

The smell hit me like a hot West Texas wind. I felt my stomach churn, and I gagged. There inside the green garbage bag was the culprit: a package of no-longer-frozen shrimp emulsifying in the summer heat. Stan had apparently thrown some things away when he and Carol cleaned out the freezer, but he forgot to take out the trash.

“Mom,” I called, triumphant. “I found it. And it’s Stan’s fault.”

You’ll have to forgive my moment of churlishness. You see, childhood rivalry never really goes away, and it felt good to know that Stan was to blame, not me.

Gingerly, I carried the trash bag with its offensive contents out the front door to the garbage can. The mystery solved, I relished in the fact that my mom was comfortable again and that I had managed a crisis, albeit a small one. And somehow, I felt a little more confident about facing the many serious challenges ahead, thanks to that mysterious stinky smell.

1 comment:

D. P. said...

I'm loving these stories you're telling. Keep 'em coming! :-)