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Hauling the trash down to the road the past few weeks, I've gone by a neighbor's house-side flower bed where phlox are in bloom. Their perfume is unmistakable, to me, although I can't describe it any better than I can other smells. Almost rose-like but less sharp than roses, heavier but not overpowering. An object, you can describe, with a fair chance of putting a reasonably precise image of it in someone else's mind, but not an odor.

When I smell phlox, which is not often, I think of my grandparents. They kept old fashioned flowerbeds full of daisies, snap dragons and hollyhocks, with sweet peas covering trellis' underneath grape arbors, and onion patches hidden amid the petunias. Behind their house, which shared a lot with my parents' home, lay a huge bed of phlox. A narrow flagstone path led through the tall flowers to the vegetable garden. On the path you were immersed in the perfume.

The phlox I pass now are pink. My grandparents' phlox were pink, burgundy, light and deep purple, white and all manner of admixtures. Perhaps the colors had blended during the forty years the plants had spent together.

It was in the phlox bed that the family pets were laid to rest. My grandfather would take his spade and find a spot where he wouldn't disturb the roots of the flowers. The earth there must have been filled with delicate bones and fragments of the wrapping blankets and collars. At night the smell of the phlox seemed to intensify and I used to imagine four legged ghosts rustling amid the flowers in the sweet scented fog.

Whoever owns the place now has turned the flowerbeds into lawn. A lifetime of planting, watering and weeding, have passed away as quickly as the endless summers of childhood. Nothing remains but the memory of a fragrance that can't even be described.

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