The Man of Many Spices

“It’s time for Captain Caaa-aave Ma-an!”

I stared at the television’s glow; my body splayed upon the ground, stomach smashed into the threadbare carpet, legs bent with feet clapping in the air, chin resting upon my hands.  My little sister sat next to me, mimicking my movements.

The waiting hour.

I glanced at the massive grandfather clock, the click just barely audible over the television. The long hand crept past the two as the short hand pointed at the five.


I half-heartedly watched Captain Caveman. Every night varying shows broadcasted during this cartoon hour – Jana of the Jungle my favorite – and I crossed my fingers for it to be next.

A car’s engine rumbled into the commercial break. Its car door slammed.

I flew from my position on the floor, rounded the corner – my bare feet pounding on the linoleum – and fought the stubborn deadbolt, opening the back door.

“Grandpa!” I cried. I approached for a hug and stopped, wrinkling my nose. “You stink, Grandpa!”

He chuckled, the sound echoing deep within his chest. He told me the name of the day’s spice, although I can’t remember it now.

Every night the smell changed along with spice. Cinnamon day was my favorite – the one day I wanted him to remain in his dark navy blue uniform with “Tone’s” etched on one side, and “Paul” embroidered on the other.

Most nights, the spices clung to his skin and clothing so fiercely, I counted down the minutes to performing my job: Grandpa’s Wash Lady.

The metal thermos and enormous black lunch box placed upon the tiny kitchen table, just a few feet away; I followed my grandpa, as he continued down the creaky basement stairs leading from the back door.

The temperature cooled, dropping as we descended, the dimness wrapping around us.

This area marked “forbidden” without an escort; the main room housed a bar, Christmas decorations, and old inherited furniture – all but the decorations retired years ago.

First we turned right, looping into the low doorway of the laundry room. The bare concrete floor chilled my feet.  A single large bulb lit the room, painting scary shadows I scoffed at in Grandpa’s presence.

I ran to the washing machine, carefully clicking the dial to the proper setting, lifting the lid, measuring the detergent before gleefully dumping it in as the warm water splattered the interior.

I turned to him, holding out my hand.

He smiled, his calloused right hand rummaging in his pocket as he produced a shiny quarter.  “There you go!”

I grinned, my wash lady money earned.

Sometimes, as we waited for the water to fill, we explored the left side of the stairs, crossing into the main room and entering his workshop.

The coolest "toy" ever.

Sawdust coated much of it, the smell mingling with the spiced clothing. I climbed onto my metal stool, reaching for the squishy funny red faced “toy”– my thumb mashing the handle bar ears into its head along with the nose and eyes. Slowly the face recovered, the odd filling returning to normal.

It always fascinated me.

I surveyed the extensive tools, magical devices carrying the power to shape regular wood into a crib or highchair for my dollies.

The water stopped, signaling the end of workshop time. We returned to the laundry room, only this time I veered left, away from the machine. I walked around the heavy black plastic curtain; a tiny white sink jutted from the dark gray cinder blocks. A foot to the right, the curtain hung on the round metal bar above, circling the sloped concrete leading to a drain.

I twisted the faucet handle, knowing the precise stopping point for ideal hot water. Quickly, I dodged the waterfall, missing the deluge.

“Good job, Kelly. Time to go back upstairs.”

I nodded, knowing the routine. I raced away, my hands joining my feet to propel myself up the stairs.

I flopped back onto the living room floor, rejoining my sister – Scooby-Doo now on the TV.

We sat and watched.

Waiting for the Old Spice aftershave scented Grandpa to emerge, signaling our time to go out and eat.


This week, your memoir prompt assignment is to think of a sound or a smell that reminds you of something from your past and write a post about that memory.  Don’t forget to incorporate the sound/smell of your choosing!

As usual, word maximum is 700 words, but you can do fewer.

Author’s Note: My grandfather is now 86 years old. He just retired from his job at the spice company LAST year. He worked there for over 45 years, known as “the old guy” who could fix and design equipment to work more efficiently. Everything he did and does, was self taught.

Constructive criticism welcomed and greatly appreciated!


About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos ( sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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18 Responses to The Man of Many Spices

  1. Ironic Mom says:

    I love how you combined the cartoons with the spices with the wash lady. And I can see the wash area: clearly.

    And I can smell the cinnamon!

  2. I feel like I was just transported back in time and got a glimpse of your childhood. It was so vivid, really Kelly, so so vivid. I loved the darkness of the basement couples with the lightness of your energy and enthusiasm for being your Grandpa’s wash lady.
    At first I was lost when you were describing the red squishy head thing in the workshop and then it TOTALLY clicked and I know EXACTLY what you are describing and you did it beautifully. That thing, whatever it is, totally fascinated me too. Great piece of descriptive writing. Loved it.

  3. Galit Breen says:

    Oh honey, this was so full of imagery and heart. A true work of memory.

    I adored this line: “the spices clung to his skin and clothing so fiercely;” it’s masterful.

    I also really loved your author’s note! 86 years old!!

    And last, but not least, I feel like I just opened up to a slice of your story and I’m very thankful for that. XO

  4. Carina says:

    I really liked the picture of you as a child that I got. I picked this one out of the pack at red dress because of the title and I wasn’t disappointed. I think you picked up on all the things that a kid thinks about, which really makes it a memory and not a reflection that you’ve had as an adult.

    I would have liked to smelled a little more description, but the cinnamon moment was a great one. I loved that as the wash lady, that was the one day when you didn’t want to do your job.

    Great memory.

  5. I could feel your love for your grandfather come through in your word choices. And Old Spice…mmm what a smell. You did a great job writing your anticipation. I too liked the mix of the cartoons with the wait. Really nice job.

  6. Frelle says:

    This was a pleasure to read. What a great page out of your story! I giggled at the opening scene of your stomach smashed to the carpet and feet clapping in the air. And I watched Captain Caveman too. I reveled in your intimate description of your grandpa, this was incredibly tender, and described so well through the eyes of a child, showing things at eye level, with childlike observation on detail and interest. It’s just really really fascinating to go back to this exact moment in time with you through your vivid recounting. I enjoyed your sweet, PROUD, author’s note too! Well done, and makes me want something cinnamon for breakfast!!

  7. Where to start? I loved how rich this was with details. You painted a very clear picture of each room, each moment. You made me desperately want to catch a sniff.

    And there really is something magical about a grandfather’s workshop. You made this moment come to life and sent me right back to my own grandfather’s shop.

    Finally, you did a wonderful job of capturing the energy of the young you. This felt authentic. Well done, my friend!

  8. varunner says:

    I loved the line about the squishy red thing and mashing your thumb. And I love that you got a quarter!

  9. Oh the memories of grandparents.
    You painted a great picture here Kelly. I was with you through your whole job as washlady.

  10. Amy says:

    This is a great story. What a wonderful memory to keep with you! My grandma is 85 and still working full time.

  11. Kir says:

    I smelled cinnamon so distinctly that I now want my own French Toast. I also saw the wash room and your feet Clapping, what an image, wow!!!

    great work and great love for your Grandpa.

  12. The richness of your detail is makes this a very special to read. Though this story at it’s heart, is of an everyday routine, you descriptions and obvious love for your grandfather keep it fresh and rich. I literally felt as if I was following behind the both of you.

    I loved these lines, because I love how he makes you brave and how aware you are of that power and magic. “First we turned right, looping into the low doorway of the laundry room. The bare concrete floor chilled my feet. A single large bulb lit the room, painting scary shadows I scoffed at in Grandpa’s presence.”

  13. Trish says:

    Wonderful imagery! You made me feel like I was right there. I like your Grandpa and feel like I’ve met him now. 🙂

    Maybe, just an idea, to describe the different spices a bit more? The pungent this or the bright sweetness of cinnamon?

  14. andygirl says:

    wow. there was so much here! every moment rich with tactile or sensory description. well done!

  15. angela says:

    This was wonderfully full of imagery. I adored this line: A single large bulb lit the room, painting scary shadows I scoffed at in Grandpa’s presence.

    That you could be brave, because of your Grandpa’s presence is so telling about your relationship.

    If I can offer any criticism, it’s that I wanted more of the spice descriptions. I could see the basement so clearly that I almost forgot about the scent part of the prompt!

  16. Leigh Ann says:

    What wonderful descriptions. Your love for your grandfather really comes through in this.

  17. Renee says:

    There is so much here!
    The cartoons
    The spices
    The wash lady

    You brought it all together perfectly. Each part flowed into the other.

    And Tones. I’m in the restaurant industry. I know those smells.

  18. Kelly says:

    I really, really enjoyed this….straight from Captain Caveman to Scooby Doo!!

    I felt like I was in the old basement with you…and the Old Spice…tied in with the daily Spices…loved it.

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