The word potpourri comes from the French word pot-pourri, which means a pot of something rotting. Since synthetic fragrances are a perk of the newer ages, people used potpourri as an air freshener in ancient times. Some claims date potpourri back to the 12th century. The servants would fill bowls with potpourri as soon as they finished cooking to disperse a pleasant aroma around the castle. Closets, baths, and large rooms were filled with bowls of potpourri. Sometimes they would scatter the mix on bedroom floors.
My grandmother and her sister, my great Aunt Maudie, occasionally made potpourri from the spent roses in Grammy’s backyard. They’d send me to the backyard equipped with a pair of sharp gardening shears, oversized gardening gloves to protect my hands and arms from the thorny bushes, and a large bucket to gather the rosebud clippings. “Clip only the roses that are starting to wilt or sag down towards the ground,” Grammy said, reminding me to cut at a 45° angle just above a leaf set that has five or more leaves.
With a bucket full of spent roses, I returned to her kitchen where we began placing the rose petals onto metal trays covered in cardboard along with lemon and orange peel, cinnamon bark, cloves, and lavender stalks. We stored the trays inside Grammy’s dark closet for two to three days, afterward toting the trays back to the kitchen and transferring the mixture into a deep bowl and stirring them with a wooden spoon adding a drop or two of some type of perfumed oil. We either filled decorative glass containers and vases with the potpourri or filled up small mesh sachet bags that we hung on hangers inside our closets diffusing a most heavenly fragrance.
When walking down the home fragrance aisle at Michael’s, I occasionally catch a whiff of a similar fragrance wafting through the air, instantly igniting memories of my potpourri-making days with Grammy and Aunt Maudie. I’m struck by how memories and past moments are like dead flowers converted to potpourri.
From seed to seed, the green new growth, the swelling bud, the floral bloom, and the dead flower, each represent a part of our individual lives and our life stories. It seems, then, that we’re all like potpourri, a mixture of bygone moments from the past, some of which are significant and profoundly change us while others are smaller, seemingly insignificant, yet, they often give us pause for introspection and growth. Indeed, life itself is an amazing assortment, a potpourri of experiences, moments, and events filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, and everything in between.
Jasleen Gumber summarized it this way: “What takes birth in me, also dies in debris. I am potpourri, a mix of dead petals effusing divine fragrance. Walking on the journey, I am potpourri.” (Jasleen is a contributing writer affiliated with the Oprah Winfrey Network. She’s an avid writer/poetess usually expressing her views on identity, pluralism, equality, and women empowerment.)